Photo: Infestation

The School of Law, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Spotlight on... Minibus electrification

We interviewed Edna Odhiambo, Lecturer at the University of Nairobi School of Law, who is the Project Leader for an exploratory research project exploring the potential of minibus electrification in Nairobi, Cairo and Cape Town.

  • Please tell us a bit about your project and why this topic is urgent.
  • Conversations on improving air quality in cities have taken the forefront. During the initial Covid-19 lockdowns, air quality improvement was significant opening our eyes to a possible future of reduced emissions from transport. Studies suggest that there is a direct correlation between air pollution and higher death rates in people with COVID-19 largely attributable to pre-existing respiratory conditions, many of which are linked to poor air quality. Transitioning to electric minibuses is a significant proactive measure to improve public health and address the climate crisis.
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  • In African cities minibus systems as their main mode of motorized transit making them essential for mobility and access as the core of public transit systems. There is, nonetheless, a need to support minibus businesses and upgrade their services to respond more effectively to climate concerns, public health and equity. Improving minibus services can help retain transit users and de-incentivize ownership and reliance on private cars, which in turn protects the environment from harmful emissions. However, minibuses are often themselves second-hand and poorly maintained, use dirty fuels, and also contribute to a growing and serious air pollution problem in the local environment. The air pollution problem disproportionately impacts workers in the sector, the walking poor and transit passengers, constituting a major, under-addressed social and environmental justice problem.
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  • Most approaches to addressing this problem involve either a focus on cleaner fuels, or replacement of minibus systems by bigger, cleaner buses. This project explores whether minibus electrification is an additional viable policy option. We are conducting a comparative study on minibus electrification in Nairobi, Cape Town and Cairo; all major cities in the region which have early pilots on electric minibuses.

 

 
  • This project is a collaboration with researchers and universities in other countries. Can you tell us more about that?
  • I am privileged to work with Mohamed Hegazy and Abdelrahman Hegazy from Transport for Cairo (TfC) based in Egypt. Air quality concerns are quite pressing in Cairo due to low quality diesel. There is increasing interest in electrification of transport exemplified by custom duty exemptions for electric vehicles (EV), procurement of 10 E-buses by Alexandria Public Transport Authority and private sector investment in testing and charging network facilities, assembling, and manufacturing.
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  • I am privileged to work with Mohamed Hegazy and Abdelrahman Hegazy from Transport for Cairo (TfC) based in Egypt. Air quality concerns are quite pressing in Cairo due to low quality diesel. There is increasing interest in electrification of transport exemplified by custom duty exemptions for electric vehicles (EV), procurement of 10 E-buses by Alexandria Public Transport Authority and private sector investment in testing and charging network facilities, assembling, and manufacturing.
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  • My counterparts in Cape Town are Herrie Schalekamp and Mikhail Manuel, researchers from Centre for Transport Studies, University of Cape Town. In South Africa, local manufacturers are gaining interest in EV manufacture. The Cape Town municipality provided funding for a pilot bus electrification project as part of its MyCiTi BRT project. Though there is a bit of lag, these developments demonstrate that the public sector can be mobilised to create the conditions necessary for an alternative energy model in public transport which can be shifted to the 15 000 minibuses that dominate public transport supply in Cape Town.
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  • In Nairobi, there is significant development towards an enabling environment with the most recent being development of EV standards accompanied by some tax incentives for large capacity EVs. There are also ongoing pilots by private sector and researchers seeking to electrify the minibus sector and many lessons to be picked from electrification pilots of two and three wheelers. I work alongside Jackie Klopp.
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  • Are there any initial insights from the comparative study?  
  • Early learnings indicate that there is need to develop explicit localized EV standards to support the electrification agenda. Stakeholder consultation particularly with the existing minibus operating structures is imperative for successful transition to e-minibuses as well as tax and fiscal incentives to attract private sector investment in the transition to e-minibuses.


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