EVs to power Kenya’s bus rapid transit system

The uptake of electric vehicles in Kenya currently stands at 5% — a majority of which are private vehicles. But the situation is about to change following an announcement that the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network in the country’s capital, Nairobi, will only be operated by green (electric, hybrid and biodiesel) vehicles. The BRT is a bus-based public transport system that delivers fast, comfortable and cost-effective services within metropolitan areas.

The authority in charge of the establishment and implementation of “a reliable, efficient and sustainable” transport system within the Nairobi metropolis — Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, NAMATA — has, in a notice, invited dealers to present their bids for the sale or lease of electric, hybrid and biodiesel buses to its administration. The leasing options cover three-, seven- and 12-year periods.

The NAMATA is implementing the BRT and other light commuter rail projects to decongest the city, with the BRT network projected for completion by the end of this year.

Mass transit vehicles under the BRT project will have dedicated lanes, a right of way that will make them faster than the already existing fossil-fuel buses. For efficiency of administration, the commuters will also be required to pay using digital prepaid technologies.

The BRT was proposed by the NAMATA in a 2019 report as a strategy for easing traffic congestion in Nairobi, where over three million commuters spend an average of 57 minutes everyday on short journeys. The unending traffic in Nairobi, the report estimated, costs the country’s economy $1 billion a year in lost productivity.

Opportunity for EV startups in Kenya

There is a possibility that locally developed electric buses will be among the first to ply the BRT as Opibus and BasiGo — two EV startups in the country — begin tests.

Two weeks ago, Opibus launched its first electric bus on Kenya’s roads, while BasiGo is set to begin its pilot soon. The high-capacity electric buses by the two companies fit the description of the type of vehicles that the authority wants.

Opibus is planning a commercial launch later this year, with plans to expand to other countries in Africa by the end of 2023. Opibus, which has been converting gasoline and diesel vehicles to electric vehicles over the last five years, is now establishing a manufacturing plant for electric buses in Kenya. Brand new 51-seater Opibus buses, with a 120 km range, will cost $100,000, while conversions will cost $60,000. BasiGo, on the other hand, will locally assemble the 25- and 36-seater buses, with a range of 250 kilometers, using parts sourced from China’s EV maker BYD Automotive.

Overall, electric mobility in Africa is growing, but at a much slower rate compared to the developed world. This is due to several challenges, including weak electricity grids, insufficient charging infrastructure and a general lack of awareness. The initial cost of buying EVs is also a major deterrent — especially for a market that mainly consumes second-hand cars.

However, countries in the region are eager to join the rest of the world in the shift to electric, and Kenya is among those that have committed to transition fully to zero-emission motor vehicles by 2040. On this path, the Kenyan government is set to publish an e-mobility policy by mid this year, which is expected to prepare the environment for the transition through the development of the required infrastructure.