Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
The National University of Science and Technology (NUST) is developing Zimbabwe’s first prototype electric bus which it expects to improve the country’s public transportation system.
Aleck Ncube, acting director of the NUST Innovation Hub, says the Faculty of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering will be working with Wise-Africa Technologies in a private- public partnership project that is set to introduce the latest technology of an integrated electric trolley train bus.
“We are so excited about it and we hope that this project will quickly come to fruition as it will help solve some of the challenges we face as a country,” he says.
Commuters across the country are struggling to access cheaper and affordable transport as the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO )is still working to build its fleet.
A sharp increase in fuel prices has also seen a spike in kombi fares leaving commuters frustrated and in need of more ZUPCO buses which are affordable and accessible.
Trolley train buses are being used in most developed and developing countries to ferry people in different cities with a positive impact on congestion, pollution and time.
This has health and environmental benefits.
NUST and Wise Africa have since signed an agreement to develop and commercialise the electric trolley bus specifically tailor-made to suit the needs of Zimbabwe, Africa and the world in general.
Wise-Africa Technologies is an emerging company experienced in technological innovations in the vehicle systems category.
The development of an electric trolley bus is one of the major projects to be facilitated through the NUST Innovation Hub under the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development innovation programmes.
Engineer Frank Mazvuru was the lead engineer in the design of the integrated system of the electric trolley bus.
The vehicle will be powered by both the hydroelectric and solar ernergy.
“The new trolley bus is a well-developed concept which has been researched from the year 2006,” Eng Mazvuru says.
“The new mechanism which will be fitted on our designed compatible train bus will allow smooth and efficient power distribution as the bus moves.
“Most developed countries which are using trolley buses will adopt our designed system which has less maintenance costs and cheaper as well as efficient applicability. If the system can be cheap in a developing nation, it means that even in a developed country it will be way cheaper.”
Says software programmer of Wise-Africa Technologies, Mr Wilfred Pondiwa: “We have seen how the Government of Zimbabwe is coping with mass transport challenges by introduction of ZUPCO buses which are at the moment failing to meet the demand.
“An introduction of the 185-seater electric bus will aid in filling the demand gap. This project is long overdue as it is necessary in curbing the challenges faced by passengers due to high fares, safety risk and poor services offered by commuter omnibuses (kombis).”
The electric prototype trolley bus will have a carrying capacity of 185 passengers.
It will use advanced technologies that include mobile software applications to allow tracking of buses by passengers on each designated route, prior electronic payments and emergency rescue services.
In addition to this, it will use an automated driving system which will be monitored by the driver, advanced seating arrangement and an interior that meets world-class standards.
The trolley bus will be tested and run on the existing mass urban transportation system which accommodates the limited infrastructure without the need to construct new roads.
The lead engineer and designer hopes the project will eventually attract an investor when it reaches the commercialisation stage after tests.
Local materials will be used to make all the major components of the bus — covering batteries, body coach building, electronics and other components.
Zimbabwe has been working to improve its public transportation system to facilitate the movement of people within a city or to remote locations.
It has been striving to build a system that is affordable, convenient, reduces congestion and offers bus services that are clean and efficient.
The Government wants all public transport buses to be clean, to embrace the cashless models, be economical and produce fewer emissions by 2020.
In addition, it wants bus services to be accessible to people with disabilities.
As part of its efforts to protect commuters from the high commuter omnibus fares, Government plans to grow ZUPCO’s fleet to 3 000 under its Vision 2030 of a middle income economy.
Government has over the years repeatedly challenged all the country’s universities to lead the country’s industrialisation process through creating new and supporting existing industries.
Zimbabwe has established a number of strategic research institutions and several quasi-government scientific bodies to demonstrate its commitment to promote research and development (R & D) to provide the country with technological solutions for sustainable development.
The country is aiming to achieve its vision of becoming an upper middle income economy by 2030 by also tapping into the Education 5.0 Government policy which requires all universities to launch into outcomes-focused national development activities which can help make Zimbabwe’s economy competitive, modern and industrialised.