220911 Taxi converted to dual petrol and gas in Pretoria Bloed Taxi rank,phot by Simphiwe Mbokazi 2

A multimillion-rand project initiated by the government is assisting the taxi industry to convert minibus taxis in Gauteng to enable them to operate on both petrol and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), thereby reducing carbon emissions.

The project is the brainchild of the Automotive Industry Development Centre, a subsidiary of Blue IQ, an agency of the Gauteng Department of Economic Development.

Seventy taxis have already been converted in a first-phase pilot project, with the conversion of a further 150 in the second phase scheduled to commence from October.

Project manager Dineshan Moodley, the head of the supply chain development department at the AIDC, said this week that the project had been started, managed and completely funded by the centre.

It involves a strong alliance with the SA National Taxi Council and a close relationship with Sasol.

Santaco assisted with the identification of the most suitable routes for the project and the taxis to be converted, which had to be out-of-warranty vehicles in good condition. The AIDC worked with Sasol to establish the refuelling infrastructure.

Moodley said Sasol needed a minimum of 40 vehicles on a route that were converted to use LPG to reach break-even on the costs incurred in establishing the infrastructure.

Two Sasol filling stations, one at Spartan in Kempton Park and the other at Kruisfontein in Pretoria, were equipped to handle LPG refilling in the first phase, but a further four Sasol service stations in the Johannesburg-Pretoria area will be equipped for LPG refilling when the second phase of the project is rolled out.

To simplify the project, Moodley said LPG conversions were only done on one taxi model, the petrol Toyota Ses'fikile 2.7 VVT-I 15-seater, because the conversion kits were model-specific.

He said there had been no opposition from taxi owners to the conversions because their vehicles got a conversion kit worth R20 000 at no cost to them and they could save money on vehicle running costs because it was more financially efficient to run vehicles on gas than petrol.

"It's a win-win situation because they save on petrol and we reduce emissions. There is an almost 11 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and a 30 percent reduction in carbon monoxide emissions using gas," Moodley said.

He said the first phase pilot project had cost R3.6 million, which included the development of a prototype vehicle and the testing of its consumption and performance at Gerotek and an accredited emissions test at the SA Bureau of Standards emissions testing laboratory in East London.

He said the total budget for the conversion of a further 150 minibuses was R4.6 million plus the marketing of the project.

Moodley stressed that the project was not about funding the conversions forever, but to prove the concept was suitable for the industry and the South African environment in the pilot phase to stimulate the uptake of the technology.

He said the biggest hurdle in getting the project off the ground was to get the refilling infrastructure established because of the costs attached to this and it was "a chicken and egg" situation because the filling stations needed to be in place first.

As taxi owners saw the benefits of the concept, the costs of the conversions would slowly be transferred to them through subsidisation of the kits instead of paying for them in full.

Moodley anticipated the project would from next year or in 2013 move to phased subsidisation of the conversion costs over two to three years. - Business Report