March 2020 changed everyone’s trajectory the world over. However, an uncontrollable reality that gave us eerily quiet roads also gave us cleaner air as nature was allowed to restore.

That situation readdressed our thinking round the boardroom table and saw us reprioritise, among many things, our vision towards a long-term sustainable and cleaner platform which is at the core of our ESG agenda.

Having a local operation that runs entirely on electric and hybrid vehicles by 2025 is no mean feat, presents many challenges and relies on multiple stakeholder responsibilities.

A year ago, we launched a pilot project, investing in a multi-branded fleet of fully electric vehicles to test and to determine the operational and commercial suitability of electric vehicles (EVs) in a 24/7 operational context on our challenging road network.

During this time, we test-covered 150,000km, consuming 18,000KwH of electricity, translating to 0.12KwH per kilometre travelled. In the process, we saved 7.3 tonnes in CO2 emission versus an internal combustion engine (ICE), also benefitting from economic savings of 65 per cent of the fuel costs and 60 per cent in maintenance and servicing.

With a fully electric eCabs fleet, these CO2 savings would go up to over 650 tonnes per annum, and more than quadruple that, had we to manage to incentivise and convince all our partner drivers to follow suit.

We launched a financial incentive for over 1,000 partner drivers who are on our platform, with a reduced commission rate charged for all ECO rides, therefore making a direct financial contribution towards the attainment of these goals. 

In doing this, we have added more incentives to the existing government grants for partner drivers to invest in cleaner vehicles. As we work to gradually decommission ICE vehicles to replace them with EVs, we will continue to incentivise our partner drivers to do the same with their vehicles. Our goal is a complete full transition by 2025.

Of course, no project of this sort comes without big challenges. The largest challenge we collectively face as a nation revolves around the county’s charging infrastructure with vehicle range coming into play.

To give some important context, between the EV brands tested, we resulted with an average range of 290km, running a half-day on a full charge. That is 55 per cent less than a full tank of fuel in an ICE, and just about serves our range requirements today. By this summer, that 55 per cent deficit will need to be closed.

On a positive note, tests on a new set of EVs which are estimated to solve this range issue have just commenced. However, the long-term solution comes in the form of a mix of fast and normal charging cycles for a healthy battery lifetime – an important factor with manufacturers’ battery guarantees covering eight years or 160,000 miles, whichever comes first.

The country’s charging infrastructure should be planned for fast charging, leaving the eight to 10-hour charging cycle at base, or the home in the case of consumers. This will, however, also come with its trade-offs as existing parking spots will need to be sacrificed for EV charging spaces, and we all know that parking is in short supply.

For larger fleet operators, there are also limitations on how many chargers can be installed on standard three-phase electricity meters. Fleet operators will inevitably have to invest in their own substations, with a hefty investment of around €150,000. Outline plans are already being drawn up for an electricity substation at our logistics centre and discussions with the government have also confirmed plans for such substations to be partially funded via grants or tax credits.

As a country, we need to be more serious about this vision. With a growing population and with consumption on a constant long-term growth rate, we need to acknowledge that these important changes are an absolute must. This will require national commitment and the execution of a plan which doesn’t waver every year or two. 

Greenwashing and skin-deep changes will not cut it. A national transition to EVs needs to be addressed at multiple levels involving all stakeholders.

As the main orchestra conductor, the government does not have it easy, however, important stakeholders also include consumers who affect demand and, by default, shape supply. Fleet operators will need to be ready to invest according to the demand generated. In the meantime, we will continue to build and shape the technology that addresses our industry’s challenges, remaining committed to the investment needed in EVs and the infrastructure required to make it work. 

Efforts by single companies will be futile if these are not complemented by a concerted effort and commitment from all stakeholders. As we remain committed to the cause, we are also confident that all stakeholders can and will come together to effect change and walk the talk.

Andrew Bezzina is co-founder of  eCabs.

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