Cotonou – Beninese hairstylist Edwige Govi makes it a point to use electric motorbike taxis to get around Cotonou, saying she likes quiet, clean rides.
Motorcycle taxis are a popular and inexpensive means of transport in West Africa.
But in Benin and Togo, electric models are taking over gasoline-powered competitors.
Customers are turning to more eco-friendly travel, and taxi drivers are turning to machines that, crucially, are cheaper to buy and run.
“They’re very quiet and don’t emit smoke,” says Govi, 26, who just finished a half-hour run through Benin’s economic hub.
In African cities, road pollution is becoming a major health and environmental problem, although for taxi drivers the big appeal of electric motorcycles is the cost.
“I manage to manage,” said Govi driver Octave, wearing the green and yellow vest used by Benin’s zemidjan taxis – a word meaning “take me away quickly” in the local Fon language.
“I make more money than with my petrol motorcycle.”
Local environmentalist Murielle Hozanhekpon said electric motorbikes have some downsides “but not environmentally”.
Alain Tossounon, a journalist specializing in environmental issues, said electric bikes were popular with taxi drivers because they cost less to maintain or operate.
The cost factor has become increasingly important in the face of an explosion in fuel prices this year triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
– Carrot credit –
In Benin, an electric motorcycle costs 480,000 CFA ($737/euros) compared to 490,050 CFA ($752/euros) for a gasoline equivalent.
But that significant price difference is only one factor behind the trend toward “quiet motorcycles,” Tossounon said.
Many taxi drivers are also attracted to flexible credit arrangements – instead of making a large one-time purchase, many are able to secure loans that they repay monthly, weekly or even daily.
Two Cotonou companies offer electric models and say they are overwhelmed by demand.
“The queue here is from morning to evening. Every hour, at least two come out of the store,” said salesman Anicet Takalodjou.
Oloufounmi Koucoi, 38, director of another company delivering the models in Cotonou, said he has put thousands of electric motorcycles into circulation.
“The number is increasing every day.”
By assembling the motorcycles locally in Benin, its electric models are cheaper than if they had been imported.
To attract customers, his company, Zed-Motors, offers solar panels to facilitate charging for those without electricity at home.
For decades, Benin and its economy have struggled with power cuts. The situation has improved, but breakdowns are still frequent.
In rural areas, in particular, electricity remains largely inaccessible.
– Battery change –
In Lomé, 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: more refueling.
“All you have to do is change the battery,” he smiles. “There are points of sale, you go there and it is exchanged for you.”
A top-up costs 1,000 CFA ($1.50/euros) and can allow mobility for three days. For the same price, Octave said, he could only drive for a day on gasoline, which is subsidized by the government.
Local authorities are also encouraging the switch to electric to replace old, highly polluting motorcycles.
But some drivers remain 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 find a charging station quickly so as not to break down.
“This sometimes leads us to swap (the battery) even with 10% or 15% charge remaining so as not to have any unpleasant surprises along the way.”