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UJ’s Electric Buses: pioneering sustainable transportation and redefining campus mobility

‘’UJ is committed to sustainability and is working to reduce its environmental impact. UJ’s sustainability initiatives are helping to create a more sustainable future for the university, its students, and the surrounding community.’’

Just over five months ago, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in a game changing move unveiled two new electric buses that will join the institution’s existing bus fleet.

As the excitement dies down, the question that has remained on everyone’s mind is: will these busses be useful to the University community? The answer, it seems, is a resounding YES!

Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi – UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal exiting UJ’s electric bus

UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi shared that the electric buses signal the realisation of an important goal for the University, to reduce its carbon footprint. This is in line with the commitment UJ has made towards the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The University of Johannesburg is constantly looking for ways and means to reduce its carbon footprint and make a positive impact on our environment. This started with a pilot project, an electric bus to see whether it will fit into the current fleet of internal combustion engine buses and to also determine if it will be suitable for the route that we use to ferry our students. After being satisfied with how the pilot bus performed, we then acquired at the beginning of 2023 two more electric buses,” Prof Mpedi said.

He added that these buses are a long-term investment that not only saves the institution some much needed money, but also ushers it towards a green, clean future.

“Electric buses do not have many moving parts, so we save money when it comes to servicing these buses. We also save on diesel. So, this is really an exciting thing for the university. A lot of people have asked that with the current loadshedding situation, will UJ not run the risk to have their buses stuck on the side of the road? We’d like to assure them and make them aware of the fact that at UJ, 15% of our energy comes from solar. We have solar plants at our campuses, and we use this to charge our buses. Obviously, 15% is not enough, and as and when resources permit, we are going to use renewable sources of energy.”

Driving innovation for a sustainable society: UJ’s role in the 4IR

One of the University’s strong points is the focus on 4IR and innovation and how the gains made from these can impact positively the society it exists in.  Speaking more on this, UJ Director of Logistics Dr Martin Siluthanyi said the adoption of the electric buses came with an important introspection- which began with finding out just how much carbon emissions UJ is responsible for.

“We are the institution of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by innovations. There is an international challenge of Carbon Emissions, and we thought about how we can be part of the solutions. We looked at our vehicles first. Our vehicles at UJ contribute about 40% of the institution’s total carbon emissions. One of the tasks we were given is to figure out how we can de-carbonize and reduce these carbon emissions. That’s when we brought along this new child [the buses].”

Dr Siluthanyi added that true to UJ’s trailblazing nature, the University is the first higher education institution in sub-Saharan Africa, to have these EV Buses.

Student voices: embracing the electric bus experience

The reviews from the main users of the electric buses, have been nothing but stellar. Undergraduate student Adesewa Dotun-Soyege said she loves the aesthetic of the buses.

“I really appreciate that we don’t have to pay for these electric buses. Secondly, these buses are appealing to us as students because they are new, future-focused, and just the whole aesthetic of the buses is cool. The buses are also quiet, so it’s much better to study on these buses. As a student I am always looking for the safest, fastest, and cheapest option, and these buses are it!”

Fellow undergraduate student Thapelo Tshamano said in terms of comfort and convenience, these buses are a cut above the rest.

“I have noticed a great difference in terms of comfort and convenience. If I were to compare, the traditional ones make a louder noise, than this electric one. In this one I can study, relax in-between campuses and if you’re preparing for a test, you can finish your preparations on the bus,” he said.

Wana Mubita, a Postgraduate student said she’s most impressed by the commitment coupled with action from UJ, to make a contribution to the ending of climate change is commendable.

“I feel like UJ is taking part in creating sustainable development and societal impact, which SDG 13, Climate Change. These buses are reducing carbon emissions, and thus contributing to the reduction of air pollution.”

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