Could Zimbabwe’s Public Transport Chaos Catalyze the Adoption of Electric Scooters for Personal Mobility?

Siemens Stiftung “Testing e-mobility business models at WE Hub Victoria Limited in Kenya” report rightly stresses the importance of mobility in the introductory section of the report by stating that “Mobility is the basis for the overall development of a society: it allows people to access jobs, markets, social facilities and health care. Moreover, mobility itself creates jobs and plays an important role in protecting the environment as the mobility sector is one of the main contributors to CO2 emissions. A dysfunctional public transport system therefore slows down or inhibits the development of a society. A dysfunctional transportation system in an already struggling economy will only compound the problems and delay recovery.

Zimbabwe’s public transport sector has long been served by private and informal operators, most using 14 to 35 seater minibuses, as is the case in many African countries. These small minibuses are known as kombis in Zimbabwe. In South Africa they are known as taxis and in Kenya they are known as matatus. Zimbabwe’s public transport sector is best described as chaotic at the moment due to multiple seasons. One of the main reasons that led to the current chaos was the government ban on these private operators at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, thus giving the state operator, Zupco, the sole mandate to offer urban suburb. The problem is that the public operator does not have enough buses to meet the number of daily commuters in urban centers in Zimbabwe.

This results in commuters waiting several hours just to catch a bus to get to work, school, or simply to get around urban centers. It has also led to the proliferation of illegal taxi operators known as ‘Mushika-Shikas’ who use small hatchbacks like the hugely popular Honda Fit or station wagons like the Toyota Wish. These “pirate taxis” are not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe and have been active since the 1980s when the reference vehicle at the time was the Peugeot 404! It just goes to show that the public transport system in Zimbabwe has been a problem for a very long time. Chaos worsens during times when Zimbabwe experiences its periodic petrol and diesel shortages due to chronic shortages of foreign currency and other factors.

The government recently announced its intention to end the 2 year ban and open up the public transport system to other actors. We can only wait to see if this will resolve the chaos that has been going on for decades. Zimbabwe generally has one of the most expensive fuels in the Southern African region. Currently, the price of gasoline is US$1.64 per liter and diesel is US$1.71 per litre. The average daily travel distance in major urban centers is around 15 kilometers as indicated in the Zimbabwe Transport Master Plan. Cheaper forms of transport not dependent on these expensive and sometimes hard-to-find fossil fuels could be a viable alternative for some commuters making short trips.

Historically, when Zimbabwean residents who can afford it face prolonged problems due to the absence of an essential service or inadequate service, such as prolonged periods without water from responsible entities, they install their own reservoirs of water storage or drill their own boreholes in their backs. yards. Likewise, citizens are installing rooftop solar systems coupled with battery storage systems to protect themselves from the now all-too-common power rationing load shedding scheme the utility company implemented as it struggles to meet demand. Will the protracted transport chaos also spawn a new industry, just as water supply problems and the drama of electricity rationing have led to a boom in well drilling and the solar industry? residential? Could electric scooters and personal mobility motorcycles take off to fill the void?

Unlike in Asia, where many people use scooters for personal mobility, or closer to home in East Africa where motorbikes are used as taxis, the market for 2-wheelers for personal mobility does not exist. not in Zimbabwe. But with such short journeys (on average 15 km), electric scooters could be an effective and affordable option for some. Zimbabwe’s generally low electricity tariffs (usually just under 10 cents USD/kWh) mean that the cost of “fuel” for electric scooters will be much cheaper than the average commuter tariff on Mushika-Shikas or Kombis ( when they come back). Depending on the route, the average public transport fare is around 50 cents. These informal/pirate operators also implement a form of “surge pricing” based on demand, route, time and weather conditions, which means that sometimes commuters may even pay more one dollar per trip on these routes.

Assuming these scooters will have a 2 kWh battery, it would take around 20 cents USD to fully charge them over a range of around 40 km depending on the type of scooter. Currently, the electricity tariff in Zimbabwe is actually 2 cents per kWh due to the rapid deterioration of the Zimbabwean currency against the US dollar. This means that a full charge would only cost 4 cents USD! which is basically getting around for free once you acquire a scooter. Most electric scooters currently available have removable lithium-ion batteries that can be charged using a standard household outlet. These batteries typically take about 4 hours to recharge, therefore there will be more than enough time to recharge them overnight when the electricity returns after peak demand periods when the utility company would put in place power outages to manage scarce power generation capacity. The batteries can also be charged using small residential solar photovoltaic systems.

Zimbabwe’s urban transport blues aren’t going away anytime soon, but electric scooters could be an option for some commuters. This will require a huge culture shift in a country where 2-wheelers have traditionally been confined to parcel and courier delivery duties. Perhaps students and recent graduates could be a market to target as a starting point.

Featured Image by Remeredzai Kuhudzai



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