The country’s very first electricity-powered buses are being trialled in Cape Town, but are already facing an uphill battle. The City of Cape Town announced plans to roll out electricity-powered MyCiti buses in 2016, with implementation expected in 2017.
Mayor Patricia de Lille, said that residents would benefit from this contract as it would create more job opportunities.
A tender was awarded to a Chinese manufacture called BYD to purchase 10 electric vehicles. The tender stipulated that the buses would have to be locally assembled and manufactured.
“The contractor will be employing local staff and will have to source some of the bus components from local suppliers,” De Lille said. “This would be the first time that electric buses are manufactured and assembled in Cape Town.”
Thus far, a total of 11 electrical buses have been purchased, costing a total of R128-million. Although the technology is efficient in reducing the City’s carbon footprint, it has encountered one hiccup: the drive motors of these electrical buses are not powerful enough to handle the Mother City’s hilly terrains.
The buses must be able to reach speeds of 60km per hour on a 4% gradient. The route these buses will travel will include Hospital Bend, which has a gradient of 6.5%.
The chassis of these buses have been imported from BYD, and are assembled and parked in Blackheath’s industrial area.
A forensic probe has been launched into the agreed tender between the City of Cape Town and BYD, and it is alleged that De Lille and suspended transport commissioner Melissa Whitehead are implicated in irregularities with the tender.
The probe, conducted by law firm Bowmans, is investigating whether the mayor and other senior City officials set up meetings with BYD in China before the company was awarded the tender.
The buses not being able to efficiently handle the city’s terrain has been referred to as a ‘specification issue’, and the funds to address this will be looked at during the August 2018 adjustments budget.
The specifications provided to BYD for the buses include having a minimum range of 200km between charges, and having depot charging equipment – essentially the same specifications of a MyCiti bus with an incorporated electric motor.
The City Council accepted BYD’s tender in August of 2016, and rejected bids from GridCars, Marcopolo SA, Zest WEG Electric and Real African Works Industries.