Sustainable mobility: walking the talk.

February 1, 2022

A blog post by Dr. Andrew Bezzina, eCabs co-founder.

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 as 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 and saw us reprioritise, amongst many things, our vision towards a long term sustainable and cleaner platform which 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, investing 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 8 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), also benefiting 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, and 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.

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, therefore making 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.

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 that 55% deficit will need to be closed. On a positive note, tests on a new set of EVs which are estimated to solve this range issue have just commenced. 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 8 years or 160,000 kms, whichever comes first.

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

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. Outline plans are already being drawn up for an electricity substation at our logistics centre, and discussions with the government have also 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. A national transition to EVs needs to be addressed at multiple levels involving all stakeholders. 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.

Lets us however make no mistake: efforts by single companies will be futile if these are not complemented by a concerted effort and commitment by all stakeholders. 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