Often noted for its chaotic, traffic-clogged streets, downtown Nairobi is the scene of several pioneering experiments in electrified public transport. Starting in February, Nairobi-based electric vehicle (EV) and finance company BasiGo will pilot-test two electric buses with public transport providers, offering a model for how Kenya can move towards an electrified and sustainable transport future.
The e-mobility startup, which launched in November last year, plans to bring over 1,000 electric buses with 25 and 36 seat capacities to Kenya for purchase by bus operators over the next five years.
The buses are being sourced from BYD Auto, the largest manufacturer of electric buses globally, and although the pilot buses were imported fully-built, the eventual goal is for BasiGo buses to be locally assembled.
“We have partnered with two different public service vehicle operators in Nairobi for our pilot programme,” says Jit Bhattacharya, CEO and co-founder of BasiGo.
“Following our pilot, we will offer electric buses to all owners, savings and credit co-operatives and companies currently operating city buses in Kenya. Up until now, diesel buses have been the only technology option for bus operators in Nairobi. We want to help all PSV operators realise the economic and reliability benefits of electric buses.”
BasiGo has so far raised around $1m in pre-seed funding, which it will deploy to prove the viability of the electric bus model.
“In parallel to the launch of our pilot, we will also take reservations for our first electric bus sales exclusively for operators in Nairobi. These buses will be delivered to customers by the end of the year,” Bhattacharya adds.
BasiGo says bus owners can purchase an electric bus for the same upfront cost as an equivalent size diesel bus. They also intend to improve affordability through a financing model that allows operators to pay for the battery and charging separately through a “pay-as-you-go” financing arrangement.
“Bus owners will then pay BasiGo a ‘pay-as-you-drive’ subscription based on the kilometres driven each day. This subscription covers all charging and maintenance at BasiGo depots as well as a lease of the e-bus battery,” says Bhattacharya.
The buses are designed to drive 250km on a single charge to allow them to operate all day without having to recharge. Operators will return the e-bus to a BasiGo-owned and operated charging depot every night where they will also receive maintenance.
The company says it chose Kenya as their base because the country is a world leader in green energy, with over 90% of all the electricity generated by the country coming from renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind. Kenya Power and Lighting Company currently has a surplus of clean, renewable energy on the electricity grid, especially at night, making Nairobi an ideal location for the pilot project.
Tackling air pollution
Buses and privately owned minibuses known as matatus, which account for approximately 40% of all trips in Nairobi, remain one of the primary modes of transport in Kenya and many African cities.
But their diesel engines are a major source of urban air pollution, classified by the World Health Organisation as one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, and are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.
In Kenya, the electric buses could produce 95% less CO2 emissions, given that most of the country’s electricity comes from renewable sources such as hydropower and geothermal. The price of operating a vehicle – currently subject to the vagaries of the fuel market – could become more predictable.
“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,” says Bhattacharya.
Once established in Nairobi, BasiGo intends to use the data and experience gained from Nairobi to expand and introduce electric buses in other cities in East Africa.
An expanding market
BasiGo is not the first EV provider in the market. Opibus, a Swedish-Kenyan EV manufacturer, EkoRent Africa, a Finnish-Kenyan company that operates a fully electric taxi-hailing service, Ecotrify, an e-mobility infrastructure supplier and installer, and Kiri EV, an electric bike producer, are all introducing parallel schemes for electric transport.
In December 2021, after successfully completing a pilot programme, Opibus partnered with Uber to deploy 3,000 electric motorcycles for African drivers by 2022. Uber’s presence in 16 African cities will enable Opibus to accelerate the mass adoption of EVs across the continent, the partners say.
“The goal of the collaboration with Opibus is to simplify the deployment of electric motorcycles across Africa. This follows an agreement between the two parties where Opibus will supply 3,000 electric motorcycles in 2022 to meet the demand from Uber’s,” the company announced in December.
According to Opibus, the Kenyan motorcycle industry is the single largest employer, estimated to employ over 1.2m young Kenyans. There are over 1.6m motorcycles registered in the country, with an average of 16,500 units imported per month.
Albin Wilson, Opibus’s chief strategy and marketing officer, says Opibus has deployed 150 motorcycles on a pilot basis to test the technology and validate the project.
“The motorcycles are being assembled in Nairobi, and are designed by local engineers for the African market,” he says. Opibus is also working on introducing electric buses and Wilson says the firm will launch 10 buses for a commercial pilot this year after which they will look to a wider rollout by 2023.
The EV manufacturer has installed 10 AC chargers, and will be installing more soon. The company has successfully raised $7.5m which will be used to boost production of motorcycles and buses.
Meanwhile, EkoRent launched NopeaRide in 2018 in a bid to become the “continent’s first 100% electric taxi-hailing service”. It operates a growing fleet of EVs and charging stations across Nairobi, and plans to grow its NopeaRide fleet by up to 100 EVs.
In 2021, the company received €200,000 from EEP Africa, an Austrian-backed financing facility to develop solar-powered charging stations in Nairobi for the taxi industry.