Finland’s electric taxi service, Nopea Ride, says it will more than triple its fleet in Kenya's capital this year, helping reduce emissions from Nairobi's notorious traffic. Environmental experts say electric vehicles are a welcome step toward reducing pollution-related health problems but say emissions standards and public transport are still lacking.
Kenyan taxi driver Charles Kaloki inserts the plug into the socket of his blue electric car and waits for 30 minutes for the car to charge.
He said switching to an electric vehicle with Finnish ride-hailing service Nopea Ride has been a boon for his pocketbook.
Nopea Ride’s parent company EkoRent Oy launched in Kenya in 2018 and has charging stations that give free power to their drivers. It makes Charles Kaloki a happy man.
“You can make better money out of this than paying for fuel in every corner in town that you visit,” he said.
Nopea Ride, which means “Fast Ride” in Finnish, plans to expand its fleet of rented electric taxis from 30 to 100 by the end of this year.
While the high cost of electric cars - about double that of fuel burners - remains a deterrent to buying, founder Juha Suojanen said the demand is growing.
“I think in the future it’s not going to be only Nopea that is importing these electric cars. There will be other people that will be buying these cars and more of them coming to the market,” said Suojanen.
Nopea is competing against more than 11,000 fuel-driven taxis in Nairobi. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says most cars in Kenya are used imports from Japan with high emission levels.
The World Health Organization says automobile pollution causes at least 5,000 deaths per year in Kenya. Martin Muchangi is from AMREF Health Africa.
“We see increased cases of obstructive congestive pulmonary diseases. We see many triggers of asthma and all this can be alluded to the air pollution that is happening along our highways,” he said.
Environmental experts say switching to electric taxis will help reduce air pollution, but Kenya also needs better public transport and a ban on high-emission vehicles, says Rob de Jong of the UNEP.
“They will then have to meet some minimum standards which can already result in reductions of emissions, depending on the pollutive, between 70 and 90 percent per vehicle,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nairobi will slowly see more electric cars plying its roads as chariots of change.