For many drivers in Cotonou, electric motorcycles are more a matter of cost than pollution – Copyright AFP Daniel ROLAND
Beninese hairdresser Edwige Govi is highlighting the use of electric motorcycle taxis to get around Cotonou these days, saying she enjoys a smooth and clean journey.
Motorcycle taxis are a popular and cheap form of transportation in West Africa.
But in Benin and Togo, electric models are gaining ground over gasoline-powered rivals.
Customers are turning to greener rides, and taxi drivers are switching to machines that, above all, are less expensive to buy and operate.
“They are very quiet and don’t emit smoke,” says Govi, 26, who had just completed a half-hour run through the economic center of Benin.
In African cities, road pollution is becoming a major health and environmental problem, although for taxi drivers the big draw to electric motorcycles is cost.
“I manage to get by,” said Govi’s driver, Octave, who wore the green and yellow vest worn by Benin’s zemidjan taxis, a word that means “take me fast” in the local Fon language.
“I earn more money than with my gasoline motorcycle.”
Local environmentalist Murielle Hozanhekpon said electric motorcycles have some drawbacks “but not on an environmental level.”
Alain Tossounon, a journalist specializing in environmental issues, said taxi drivers appreciated electric bikes because they were less expensive to maintain or operate.
The cost factor has become increasingly important in the face of the explosion in fuel prices this year caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
– Credit Carrot –
In Benin, an electric motorcycle costs 480,000 CFA (737 dollars/euros) compared to 490,050 CFA (752 dollars/euros) for the gasoline equivalent.
But this significant price difference is only one factor explaining the trend toward “quiet motorcycles,” Tossounon said.
Many taxi drivers are also drawn to flexible credit offers: Instead of making a large one-time purchase, many can take out loans that pay monthly, weekly, or even daily.
Two companies in Cotonou have been offering electric models and say they are overwhelmed with demand.
“The queue here is from morning to night. Every hour at least two leave the store,” said vendor Anicet Takalodjou.
Oloufounmi Koucoi, 38, a director of another company that delivers the models to Cotonou, said thousands of electric motorcycles had been put on the road.
“The number is growing every day.”
By assembling the motorcycles locally in Benin, their electric models are cheaper than if they had been imported.
To attract customers, his company, Zed-Motors, offers solar panels to make charging easier for those without electricity at home.
For decades, Benin and its economy have struggled against power outages. The situation has improved, but outages are still common.
In rural areas especially, electricity remains largely inaccessible.
– Battery change –
In Lomé, the capital of neighboring Togo, Octave de Souza proudly parades through the streets on his brand new green electric motorcycle.
One point in particular makes him and his wallet happy: no more refueling.
“All you need to do is change the battery,” he smiled. “There are points of sale, you go there and they change it for you.”
A recharge costs 1,000 CFA (1.50 dollars / euros) and can provide mobility for three days. For the same price, Octave said, he could only travel a day using gasoline, which is subsidized by the government.
Local authorities are also encouraging the switch to electric in a bid to replace old, highly polluting motorcycles.
But some drivers are wary of electric models, citing range anxiety — the worry of stopping with a dead battery.
Taxi driver Koffi Abotsi said he struggled with the “stress” of having to quickly find a charging station so as not to break down.
“This sometimes leads us to change (the battery) even with 10 or 15 percent charge remaining so we don’t have nasty surprises down the road.”