West Africans are switching to electric motorcycles

Benin hairdresser Edwige Gowie says she uses electric motorbike taxis to get around Coton these days, saying she enjoys the quiet and clean ride.

Motorcycle taxis are a popular and cheap form of transportation in West Africa.

But in Benin and Togo, electric models are taking over their petrol counterparts.

Customers are seeking greener travel, and taxi drivers are switching to vehicles that are, above all, cheaper to buy and operate.

“They are very quiet and don’t smoke,” says Gowi, 26, who just completed a half-hour run through Benin’s economic hub.

In African cities, road pollution is becoming a major health and environmental concern, although for taxi drivers, the big attraction of electric motorcycles lies in their cost.

“I’m getting through,” said Govi’s driver, Octav, wearing a green and yellow vest used by Benin Zemidjan taxis, a word meaning “take me fast” in local language background.

“I make more money than I do with my fuel motorcycle.”

Local environmentalist Muriel Hosanhekpon said electric motorcycles have some downsides, “but not on an environmental level.”

Alain Tossunon, an environmental journalist, said taxi drivers appreciate electric bikes because they are cheaper to maintain and operate.

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The cost factor is becoming more and more important in the face of a sharp increase in fuel prices this year caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

– Credit carrot –

In Benin, an electric motorcycle costs 480,000 CFA ($737/€) versus 490,050 CFA ($752/€) for the petrol equivalent.

But this significant price difference is only one factor explaining the trend towards “silent bikes,” Tossunon said.

Many taxi drivers are also attracted to flexible loan agreements – rather than making a large one-time purchase, many can get a loan that they pay off monthly, weekly or even daily.

Two companies in Cotonou offer electric models and say they are in overdrive.

“There is a line here from morning to evening. At least two roll out of the store every hour,” said salesperson Aniset Takalojou.

Oloufunmi Kukoi, 38, director of another model supply company in Cotonou, said they have put thousands of electric motorcycles into circulation.

“The number is growing every day.”

With the motorcycles assembled locally in Benin, his electric models cost less than if they were imported.

To attract customers, his company Zed-Motors offers solar panels to make recharging easier for those without electricity at home.

For decades, Benin and its economy have struggled with power outages. The situation has improved, but the failures continue.

In rural areas in particular, electricity remains largely unavailable.

Green ride: West Africans are switching to electric motorcycles
A ZedMotors employee puts a charged battery into an electric motorcycle outside his store in Cotonou October 21, 2022. “For several months now, many Beninese people have been choosing this mode of transport because of its environmental friendliness, affordable cost and availability. . (Photo by Janick Folly/AFP)

– Replacing the electric motorcycle battery –

In Lome, the capital of neighboring Togo, Octave de Souza proudly rides the streets on his brand new green electric motorcycle.

One moment especially pleases him and his wallet: no more refueling.

“All you have to do is change the battery,” he smiled. “There are points of sale, you go there and they exchange you.”

Recharging costs 1,000 CFA ($1.50/EUR) and can provide mobility for three days. At the same price, Octave said, he could only drive for one day on state-subsidized gasoline.

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Local authorities are also encouraging the transition to electric vehicles to replace old, highly polluting motorcycles.

But some drivers remain wary of electric models, citing range concerns — the fear of stopping because of a dead battery.

Taxi driver Coffey Abotsi said he struggled with the “stress” of having to find a charging station quickly to avoid breaking down.

“Sometimes this results in us replacing (the battery) even with 10 or 15 percent left so there are no nasty surprises along the way.”