Electric matatus set to drive diesel version off the roads

electric bus

A COP26 electric bus is parked in the city centre of Glasgow, Scotland on October 29, 2021. 

Photo credit: Andy Buchanan | AFP

The next time you board a matatu to the Nairobi central business district, it could be using electricity rather than diesel.

BasiGo, an e-mobility start-up, has raised Sh100 million in seed funding to locally assemble electric 25 and 36-seater buses that will be used for public transport, with a target of expanding to the rest of East Africa.

The company is sourcing the buses from BYD Automotive, the largest manufacturer of electric buses globally, and is planning to ship in two units before the end of the year.

The pair will be used for the pilot phase of its entry into the Kenyan market, while local bus operators for the pilot testing have already been picked.

The firm says the move is aimed at cutting reliance of public service vehicles running on diesel whose prices are rapidly rising, piling pressure on commuters due to increases in cost of transport.

BasiGo chief executive Jit Bhattacharya, who also co-founded the company with renewable energy veteran Jonathan Green, said electric buses will not only be a first in Kenya but will also be more affordable, reliable and cost-effective as compared to the current buses that run on the dirty diesel.

“For years, diesel-powered buses have been the only viable solution for bus operators in Kenya. We are excited to provide public transport operators with a new option: state-of-the-art electric buses that are more affordable, more reliable, and reduce bus operator exposure to the rising cost of diesel fuel,” Mr Bhattacharya said last week.

Electric buses

He said prices of electric buses have come down drastically addressing concerns over the initial cost of the vehicles, and that they will also help the country reduce its carbon footprint at a time climate change has emerged as a key issue globally.

“Our goal is to help bus owners in Kenya realise these savings, and in the process, help Kenya become a global leader in sustainable public transport,” he said.

The company says the buses can go 250 kilometres before needing to be recharged.

“We will build a charging depot in Nairobi for the buses that we will use for the piloting. However, we will be able to build more charging pots as demand for the buses increases over time,” Mr Bhattacharya told Smart Business on Tuesday.

To address concerns of the high upfront cost associated electric buses in countries that have already adopted them, the company says buyers will purchase them at the same price as they would diesel buses, and then offer the battery as a separate package that users will pay as they use.

“The greatest concern with any electric vehicle for Africa is the high upfront cost. However, when costs of fuel and maintenance are included, EVs can be more affordable than fossil-fuel vehicles over their lifetime, especially for high-mileage applications such as buses. To reduce the upfront cost of their electric buses, BasiGo is launching an innovative, pay-As-You-Go battery financing model,” Mr Bhattacharya said.

Through the model, the company will be charging a subscription fee for usage of battery at a rate it says “will be competitive with what bus operators are currently paying for fuel and maintenance”. It is estimated Kenya has over 30,000 PSVs using diesel whose price has been rising due to rising import costs.

Diesel prices hit Sh115.6 per litre in September, the highest level in Kenya’s history that saw PSVs increase transport costs, hitting commuters hard even as data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows the price of the commodity has risen 18.82 per cent between October last year and this year.

At the same time, the cost of commuting has also risen 8.15 per cent during that time.

The company joins Swedish firm Opibus, Finnish company Nopea Ride and Kenyan start-up Kiri Electric among major electric vehicle service providers that have already set up shop in Kenya, but will be the first provider of electric buses in the country.

This would see Nairobi join Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Sydney and Santiago as among major global cities using electric buses.