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Golden Arrow set to become SA’s first public bus service with an electric vehicle fleet

Golden Arrow set to become SA’s first public bus service with an electric vehicle fleet
(Photo: Leila Dougan)

The bus service has been testing electric vehicle buses since 2021. By 2025, it hopes to have at least 60 of these buses on Cape Town’s roads. Its chief engineer says electric vehicle fleets is the way to go — as retailers have also found.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are the way of the future. And in the city of Cape Town, within two years, public transport will be quieter, smoother and less foul-smelling. 

By December 2025, Golden Arrow Bus Service will have no fewer than 60 electric buses on Cape Town’s roads, as part of its fleet renewal programme. 

The bus service, owned by Frontier Transport — a JSE-listed company, of which Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI) is the biggest shareholder — is the biggest public transport bus service operator in the city.

Founded in 1861, Golden Arrow Bus Service operates a fleet of about 1,200 buses, with more than 220,000 commuters using the service daily. 

The bus service has conducted more than 100,000km of testing since early 2021, in which it put four EV buses — three BYDs from China and a German MAN — through their paces. The BYD buses were built in China and imported, while the MAN chassis was imported and built in Olifantsfontein, outside Tshwane. 

Gideon Neethling, the chief engineer at Golden Arrow Bus Service, told Daily Maverick that the service buys five new buses per month. “From now, they’ll be EVs, not diesel buses, as part of our fleet renewal programme.”

Golden Arrow first started testing two 37-seater BYD buses, then added another 65-seater bus, built to Golden Arrow Bus Service’s specification, and a MAN bus, which was launched on 28 September.  

“We will be testing the bus on [MAN’s] behalf for 12 months. It is important for manufacturers and operators to do the testing and share the results to ensure that the potential areas for improvement are included in future models.”

The buses are extremely quiet: “You only hear road noise. It’s fantastic to listen to the reduction in noise,” he explained, adding that EVs are more energy-efficient in traffic, unlike vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs).

“When you’re stationary, there’s zero energy being used. It’s built for stop-start, plus, when you take your foot off the pedal, the vehicle continues due to its momentum turning the wheels and the motor switches over to become a generator. It’s like a golf cart.” 

The buses are charged at one of Golden Arrow Bus Service’s three depots, which have 120KWh plated chargers that boost the battery by 100km for an hour of charging. The company plans to install solar panels at all its carports and bus parking depots.

Golden Arrow Bus Service owns 22 hectares of property, which it envisages will be covered with photovoltaic panels in the next few years, Neethling explained during the launch of the MAN bus in September.

“We take people to work in the morning and back home [in the evening]. In the middle of the day, our buses are stationary, so each bus is averaging only 200km daily. And they have two charging opportunities per day, with an energy mixture of solar and grid. Golden Arrow Bus Service generates substantially more electricity than we need, which we feed into the City of Cape Town’s grid.”

Lower running costs

Golden Arrow Bus Service did not yet have the final costing for the EVs, Neethling said, but they expected them to cost about 2½ times more than an ICE vehicle, which currently sets them back R3-million, but the running costs are significantly lower. 

The energy costs are 70% lower than for an ICE bus, and estimates suggest that the saving on spare parts is 50%, and 30% on labour, as there are fewer moving parts in an EV. 

Golden Arrow Bus Service has also initiated a two-star artisan project, which allows newly qualified artisans to qualify for a second apprenticeship as auto electricians. The first of these two-star artisans will qualify at the end of this year. In the next five years, all Golden Arrow Bus Service artisans will be dually qualified, which will serve them well in the future as they become highly sought-after in the renewable energy sector. 

Golden Arrow Bus Service is the first fare-earning bus service in South Africa to use EVs.

For now, these valuable buses are only being used on low-risk routes, Neethling said, as Golden Arrow had been repeatedly targeted by vandals. “We are worried, but our operations guys work with community forums, and we look after all our vehicles to the level we can. We also need to find ways to lessen risk for our passengers. ” 

The company does not know what the ultimate mix of ICE and EV will be, because replacing the entire fleet, at a rate of five per month, will take 20 years. 

“It needs to be a commercial solution: nobody is sponsoring us to go green. We do our sums on electricity generated by Eskom and we ask, how green can we go? It is much better to start this way and partner with as many people who are generating wind and solar as possible.”

EVs are an ideal opportunity for public transport and delivery fleets.

Retailers and EVs

In June, after a 10-month trial, Woolworths announced it would be rolling out electric panel vans in partnership with DSV and Everlectric to deliver its online purchases in Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. It was the first retailer in SA to roll out EVs for its online deliveries.

The roll-out will result in up to 70% of the retailer’s fleet being powered by electricity, which could lessen tailpipe carbon emissions by 700,000kg. 

Takealot has launched a fleet of electric trucks. Last week, it announced a collaboration in the Western Cape with commercial charge point operator Aeversa and Avis, the lease vehicle supplier of JAC Electric Trucks. The JAC N75EVs have a range of 200km per charge, which Aeversa’s chargers help double with strategically placed charge points. 

The partnership also marks a milestone in charging infrastructure, with the Western Cape’s largest DC fast-charging station, with a 240-kilowatt capacity, set to open in 2024. 

Last month, the Spar Group announced it would be rolling out an EV fleet for deliveries ordered via its online shopping platform, Spar2U. The roll-out follows a pilot phase implemented in March.

The retailer is replacing 65 of its petrol-powered motorbikes with energy-efficient vehicles, with the initial deployment in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Lowveld. DM

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  • peter selwaski says:

    Electric buses and rolling blackouts. 😂😂😂😂😂😂

  • Warwick Blyth says:

    Two problems with this plan. 1) SA grid electricity is heavily dependent on coal so the electric bus is probably dirtier than diesel in terms of total emissions. 2) Electric buses (and cars) are much heavier and trash the roads (potholes, etc) – is Golden Arrow going to pay for that?

    • David Walker says:

      I am not sure about your point 2, but re point 1 the article indicates that the buses will be charged over the middle of the day at the depot using solar power? That seems to be an ideal solution?

  • Grant S says:

    The pressure on the grid and whether or not electric is ‘greener’ is a massive debate, mining of battery raw materials, disposal once beyond useful life etc.

    Will axle weights increase so much as to match or exceed fully laden trucks? It’s an interesting point you raise and another question to be answered on the total infrastructure and environment cost.

    Sadly, in our sometimes volatile society, I also wonder how battery powered Golden Arrow buses will burn? It’s a terrible thing to have to consider, and surely not beyond the scope of any city SWOT analysis undertaken.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    The only question I have is are they fire resistant? …or will our lovely taxi drivers burn them, and our lovely government ignore it as usual.

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