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eCabs in record start to 2022

eCabs in record start to 2022

Maltese ride-hailing company eCabs has seen customer journeys during the first three months of 2022 grow by more than 50 per cent, compared to the same period in 2019, which is its best performing year to date. As the company gears up to expand internationally, Malta Today spoke with Dr Andrew Bezzina, CEO at eCabs’ Malta operation about how the ride-hailing company achieved this success and what the future holds.

“It’s easy to forget that just last January tens of thousands of people were in quarantine. Tourism and nightlife, our two main segments, were at a standstill compared to forecasts. To have emerged from such a poor start to year so strongly is a fantastic result and a testament to the quality and efficiency of the service we deliver,” says Dr Bezzina, reflecting on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the business.

“Of course, we had already started to see a recovery in our business in the summer of 2021 when restrictions were first eased. But, the Omicron variant and, I must say, overly cautious decisions from various Governments which heavily impacted travel, put a stop to that. Thankfully, things are looking a lot better now. In fact, the bounce back from the omicron variant is much swifter than initially anticipated and ride volumes in the first three months of the year are up more than 50 percent from those registered in the first quarter of our record year in 2019.”

Swift growth in customer journeys in 2022

When analysing the swift growth in customer journeys registered this year, Dr Bezzina highlights the increase in travel as a key factor. “With the airport once again becoming a popular pick-up and drop-off point again and an uptick in demand for longer rides, the average price per ride is also increasing steadily. This is paving the way for healthier EBIDTA margins”, he says, before adding that, “The return to working from the office and a generally more positive atmosphere is encouraging people to go out more, especially in the evenings. The further easing of restrictions announced this week is welcome as it will certainly further strengthen consumer confidence and further support the recovery in tourism.”

The current positive outlook would not have materialised had it not been for several key decisions taken at the height of the pandemic, many of which are proving their worth up to this day. “eCabs has always been a financially prudent business but the impact of the pandemic made us even more focused on taking a responsible approach to our business and operational decisions in swift fashion, and pushed us to continue fine tuning our operating costs,” explains Dr Bezzina. “A leaner and more dynamic operating model is certainly helping us to cope with inflation and the supply chain challenges that are now affecting Malta and the global economy.”

From a ride-hailing business to a technology platform

Aside from improvements in efficiency, a major focus for eCabs in recent months has been its technology company, Cuorium Technologies. “Becoming an international player in the mobility space means eCabs must continue its transformation from a Maltese ride-hailing business, to a technology platform deployed in various territories, serving customers and fleets anywhere in the world. We have invested heavily in this area over the past two years and the results we are seeing in Malta, with its complex infrastructure and demanding customers, prove that both our technology and our business model work,” says Dr Bezzina.

eCabs 2022 tech

Cuorium Technologies is, in fact, at the heart of eCabs’ plans for growth. “Our experience in Malta confirms that this technology can be taken into any market and we’re now working hard to raise the funding we need to move into carefully selected international markets. Whilst the interest has been extremely positive from various corners of the world, strategy leads our decisions.”

Partner Drivers

“2022 has started very well for eCabs and the outlook for our Malta operations is very positive. On this basis we have set ourselves the ambitious target of doubling the number of journeys we delivered in 2019. This, inevitably, means that we need to attract as many partner drivers as we can. We already have more than 1,400 partner drivers in Malta using our platform and will continue doing all we can to offer the best possible working conditions. Our engagement with drivers is also key to reducing the carbon footprint of our business as we work towards fulfilling our commitment to have a fully electric and hybrid fleet by 2025, something which is a key strategic priority for us. This year, eCabs will also be buying 15 electric vehicles for its own fleet,” continues Dr Bezzina.

The eCabs Malta CEO concludes, “A stronger than ever post pandemic recovery remains our key priority but despite the challenges, we didn’t lose sight of our long-term strategic goal. eCabs is merging from this challenging period in the best shape ever and is ready for an exciting and prosperous future.”

In the press:

Malta Today | Business Today

sustainable

Sustainable mobility: walking the talk

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