Sustainable mobility: walking the talk

February 1, 2022

eCabs co-founder Dr Andrew Bezzina says that eCabs has reprioritised its vision towards a long term sustainable and cleaner platform.

March 2020 changed the trajectory of many businesses the world over. However, an uncontrollable situation that gave us eerily quiet roads, also gave us cleaner oxygen and clearer air. Nature was given the time and space needed to blossom with balances restored on land, air and sea. We learned to love what we miss so much in our country. The countryside walks with our families and the nature that we have come to take for granted over the years.

In many ways that situation contributed to the resetting of our thinking around the boardroom table. It saw us reprioritise, amongst many things, our vision towards a long term sustainable and cleaner platform. This is at the core of our Environmental, Social & Governance agenda. Having a local operation that runs entirely on Electric and Hybrid vehicles by 2025 is no mean feat. It presents many challenges and relies on multiple stakeholder responsibilities.

Earlier this year we launched a pilot project. We invested in a multi-branded fleet of fully electric vehicles to test and to determine the operational and commercial suitability of EV’s in a 24/7 operational context on our challenging road network.

In eight months, we test covered 150,000kms, 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). Additionally, we also benefited from economic savings of 65% of the fuel costs. With a fully electric eCabs fleet, these CO2 savings would go up to over 650 tonnes p.a. More than quadruple that had we to manage to incentivise and convince all our partner drivers to follow suit. The process also saw us benefiting from 60% in cost savings for maintenance and servicing.

Incentives for all ECO rides

Having over 1,000 partner drivers on our platform in Malta, we launched a financial incentive for all with a reduced commission rate charged for all ECO rides. We thereby made 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 at gradually decommissioning ICE vehicles and replacing them with Electric Vehicles (EVs), we will continue to incentivise our partner drivers to do the same with their vehicles. Our goal is to complete the full transition by 2025.

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

A long term sustainable solution

To give some important context, between the EV brands tested, we resulted with an average range of 290kms, running a half-day on a full charge. That is 55% less than a full tank of fuel in an ICE, and just about serves our range requirements today. By this summer we will need to close that 55% deficit. On a positive note, we have commenced tests on a new set of EVs. These tests are estimated to solve this range issue . 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 kms, whichever comes first.

The country’s charging infrastructure would therefore be best planned for fast charging. This would leave the 8-10hr charging cycle at the base, or the home in the case of consumers. It will however also come with its trade-offs. Existing parking spots would need to be given up for EV charging spaces. And we all know that parking is in short supply.

“We need to be more serious about this vision”

For larger fleet operators, there are also limitations on how many chargers can be installed on a standard 3-phase electricity meter. Fleet operators will inevitably have to invest in their own substations, with a hefty investment of around €150,000. We are already drawing up outline plans for an electricity substation at our logistics centre. Additionally, ee have held discussions with the government. They have 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. All stakeholder at multiple levels need to address a national transition to EVs.

Build and shaping tech for a sustainable future

As the main orchestra conductor, the Government does not have it easy. However important stakeholders also include consumers who ultimately affect demand, and by default shape supply. Fleet operators will need to be ready to invest in and anticipate 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.

Let us however make no mistake. Sustainable efforts by single companies will be futile unless all stakeholders complement them by a concerted effort and commitment. 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.

In the press:

The Times | Malta Business Weekly