Petrol-guzzling taxi industry goes green

Article first published in The Star on 16 March 2017
Move towards use of cheaper, eco-friendly gas in vehicles

The petrol-intensive minibus taxi industry is on the verge of a revolution following a company’s conversion of a number of taxis from petrol to the greener and cheaper liquid petroleum gas (LPG).

Versus SA Autogas, a subsidiary of the Poland-based Versus Autogas Equipment, has already converted more than 100 minibus taxis from the Johannesburg Southern Suburbs Taxi Association (JSSTA) – based in Eldorado Park – and the Randburg United Local and Long Distance Taxi Association (RULLDTA). The company installs the required equipment, including an 80-litre LPG tank, in the taxis and turns them into hybrid vehicles where they run on both the LPG and on petrol.

One of the people who had his taxi converted is owner/driver Flyman Stanley. Stanley, 37, told The Star he has been a taxi driver for the past 15 years, and bought his first minibus taxi in April last year. Detailing the savings he has accrued since converting his vehicle in November, Stanley said he used to spend roughly R850 a day for a full tank of petrol, which is 50 litres, but now spends about R740 to fill up his 80-litre gas tank, which lasts him longer than the petrol. The price of the LPG is R9.50 a litre.

“I can go about two days driving on a full tank of LPG, whereas in the past I had to fill up with petrol every day. This helps me a lot because I provide transport for schoolchildren residing in my home township of Diepsloot, who go to school in Laudium and Valhalla in Pretoria, and I have to do my daily routes from Honeydew to Diepsloot,” Stanley explained. He added that these were astonishing savings as his scholar transport route is a round-trip of roughly 50km, while the distance from Honeydew to Diepsloot is about 37km – a trip that he does four times a day on average.

“I’ve passed on these savings to the parents of the schoolchildren I ferry. I was supposed to be charging them about R500, but now I only charge R350 a month. I can’t reduce the price of my taxi route as this is set universally by RULLDTA, and I would be in big trouble if I were to cut the price,” Stanley said with a laugh.

However, he said he would be able to pay off the instalments of his taxi with ease, so he could concentrate on his dream of owning at least 10 taxis because he believes he is a born entrepreneur. He added that he wanted to debunk the notion that people from poor backgrounds like himself could not be successful business people.

The owner of Versus SA, Krzysztof Sil, who is Polish-born and has been living in South Africa for 30 years, said he and his business partner, Anil Sumaraj, had been trying to introduce LPG to private car users for several years, to no avail, which was why they approached the taxi industry.

“We thought it was easier to go for the taxi industry because they use a lot of petrol. “So the gas would be good for them savings-wise, and good for the environment,” Sil explained. Sumaraj said they have two LPG filling stations – one in Eldorado Park for the JSSTA and the other in Diepsloot for the RULLDTA drivers.

He added that they have kept their LPG price at R9.50 a litre for the last three months as they buy the gas locally from Sasol, which allows them to keep their prices low. The current price of petrol in inland provinces is R13.54, up from R13.09 in January. Sumaraj said their plan was to eventually open up more filling stations, with the taxi associations owning a portion of the stations and managing them entirely.

“The way we are looking at it is that we want to empower the taxi industry,” he said. “The associations will form a co-operative on their own where the taxi owners will run the co-operatives and become part owners of the filling stations.” “We would like to keep 51% of the filling stations to ourselves,” he added. “The reasoning behind that is that we would like to control the maintenance of the stations, as well as our Versus trademark.

“But the associations will have full management of the stations and we will not interfere in how they choose to manage the stations.” Sil said they were glad that the associations would continue employing locals at their filling stations, which is something his company started when they opened the two stations in Eldorado Park and Diepsloot. Indeed, the taxi industry is on the verge of a revolution.

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