Hail, the electric taxi is ready for takeoff. Starting point is Nairobi

Tuesday December 18 2018

 EkoRent Nopia Ride

An electric taxi owned by Finnish company EkoRent Nopia Ride. The taxi hailing company is seeking to make Nairobi the first city in the region to cut back on energy use and emissions using the taxi service. PHOTO COURTESY | NOPIA RIDE  

ALLAN OLINGO
By ALLAN OLINGO
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A new electric taxi hailing company in Nairobi is promising to revolutionise the sector, by giving its drivers higher profits than their peers from other companies, while reducing pollution from car emissions.

Finnish company EkoRent Nopia Ride is combining shared transport and electric mobility, as it seeks to make Nairobi the first city in the region to cut back on energy use and emissions using the taxi service.

During the trial phase, EkoRent is maintaining and servicing its two charging stations located at the Two Rivers Mall and the Hub in Karen, at zero cost to the taxi drivers.

The cars have no engine, so they purr along the roads, with electric indicators showing the battery levels, so that drivers can tell when it is time to head to a charging station.

The taxi-hailing company will use the same model on book-a-ride-and-pay formula like the ones Uber and Taxify use.

Users have to download the Nopia Ride mobile app to locate and book the electric taxi vehicles.

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Nopia Ride is launching its vehicles at a time when increases in fuel prices have made the taxi business less profitable, forcing drivers to devise ways, sometimes illegal, to protect their margins.

Cost advantages

Philip Ngari, 26, one of the drivers picked for the pilot phase said he moved his taxi to the Nopia Ride model because of the cost advantages he gets from driving an electric car.

“In this business, the biggest cost is fuel and the recent increase as a result of the eight per cent rise in VAT hit us hard. This is mostly because the taxi-hailing apps failed to factor in this cost, so drivers have to shoulder the burden.

“I saw the opportunity to shift to this electric car model and it has worked well for me. I save $35 daily that I would otherwise have spent on buying fuel,” said Mr Ngari.

In an interview with The EastAfrican, EkoRent founder Juha Suojanen, said the service, which started as an electric car rental app in Helsinki, Finland, will offer a solution for both the cost elements of the taxi business while promoting better emissions standards.

“We want to break into Nairobi’s competitive taxi market by offering zero-emission rides at lower rates. Kenya has been on the global map for adopting new technologies and that is why we chose Nairobi as our first overseas pilot city,” said Mr Suojanen.

According to Mr Suojanen, the low cost of operation and environmental protection is a win-win model.

“Nopia Ride will charge drivers lower than other taxi-hailing firms, enabling them to save more than 50 per cent on costs. This will ensure low prices for the passengers while the drivers can still make a living,” he said.

Pilot phase

The firm has been running a pilot phase since August in Nairobi, using vehicles that it owns, in order to asses the viability of its business model, which it hopes to expand across the continent. It now says it is ready to scale up.

“Our trials have been successful and we have seen a great deal of demand and interest from taxi drivers using other platforms.

“We shall officially introduce these cars in the market in the first quarter of 2019, and we are hoping to scale up to 300 vehicles by the end of the year,” said Mr Suojanen.

Nopia Ride will enable drivers to purchase the vehicles from the firm and use the firm’s charging stations.

The firm plans to increase the number of charging stations across key malls in the city in order to boost accessibility.

It has set a target of 1,500 vehicles in Nairobi by the end of 2021.

“We want to ensure that the model works then possibly expand it to other towns in the country. We shall then expand to East Africa then the continent,” said Mr Suojanen.

Explaining why a Finnish company chose Nairobi for its first international expansion, Mr Suojanen said:

“The city is growing fast with huge transportation and congestion problems that cause more issues with emissions. So, it was a clear choice.

“Growth potential in Finland is quite limited. We saw that there’ is a big business opportunity as well as the chance to do some good for the environment by going to bigger cities outside of Europe.”

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