Estonian on-demand transport firm Bolt is set to roll out electric taxi options in South Africa four months after introducing e-bike food delivery services in the country.
Bolt’s plan follows the introduction of a "green category" -- which lets riders hail an electric or a hybrid vehicle. This comes as the company expands its services to environmentally friendly modes of transport.
“We are looking to roll out a green taxi category in South Africa in the next few months, and plan to roll out green categories in other African markets,” said Bolt’s regional director for Africa and Middle East, Paddy Partridge.
The company already offers a green option in Kenya, where it also runs e-bike food delivery. It also plans to launch e-mobility options for food delivery in its other markets across East Africa, including Uganda and Tanzania.
Founded in 2013 by Markus Villig, the tech firm, which has operations in 45 countries -- including seven in Africa -- runs a gamut of services comprising ride-hailing, car, scooter and bike rentals, food delivery and recently grocery delivery, fashioning itself as a transport and deliveries company.
“In East Africa we see a lot of potential on the motorbike side, and especially for delivery. We plan to invest more in this direction as it also serves to eliminate the challenges associated with constantly fluctuating fuel prices, currently the most significant operating cost for our couriers,” said Partridge.
Opportunities for electric mobility are said to be huge, but a majority of countries lack the necessary infrastructure to support their adoption, says a UNEP report.
A lack of recharging infrastructure, low grid power connectivity and generally expensive e-vehicles remain hindrances to the adoption of electric transportation options in many African countries.
A transition to electric power would offer countries in sub-Saharan Africa a range of gains, including affordable transport and a reduction in emissions, with fossil-fuel vehicles contributing 12% of the region’s total emissions, according to the SSA Nature Sustainability report.
Bolt is planning arrangements with banking institutions in its markets in Africa to help its drivers access credit for purchasing electric vehicles, exploring other options away from its current scheme with leasing companies.
“The purchase cost and import duties are often high, thereby deterring ownership. We are exploring a number of vehicle financing partnerships in Kenya and South Africa for electric cars and bikes, which would help make it easier for drivers to get access to, and eventually own, electric vehicles,” he said.
The company’s plan to expand its offering across the continent comes in the wake of growing competition from companies such as Uber, which is currently testing a carpooling service in Nairobi, with plans to roll it out in Ghana and Nigeria.
Bolt recently launched the food delivery service in Nigeria, and also expanded its reach in South Africa by rolling out the service in Johannesburg after introducing it in Cape Town last year.
This comes in the wake of the company’s recent $696 million (€600 million) funding round that the tech firm said will go into growing the new grocery delivery service, Bolt Market, as well as in expanding its other transport and delivery services.
Sequoia Capital, Tekne Capital, Ghisallo, G Squared, D1 Capital and Naya Capital are some of the investors that participated in the funding round that increased its valuation to €4 billion. The new funding came after the International Finance Corporation injected $24 million (€20 million) into the business at the beginning of the year.
Among the services it is looking to grow is Bolt Drive, the car rental service launched early this year to offer different choices, including compact, mid-size, electric, premium, SUV and van. The service is currently available in Estonia’s capital Tallin, with plans to roll it out in other European and African markets. Bolt Drive adds to the micromobility options -- scooters and e-bikes -- that the company introduced in line with its goal of availing to the masses, more budget environmentally friendly transport solutions. The e-mobility service is available in over 100 cities across Europe.
“We continue to scale up our operations for the benefit of our customers. Our core business is to provide reliable, safe and affordable transportation services to everyone and we are excited to make travel easier and quicker in many cities across the continent,” said Partridge.