Hi-tech, cheap – and quiet. Thailand may have blazed the trail with its fleet of solar-powered tuk-tuks, but West Africa is catching up. The Ivorian resort of Jacqueville is betting on sun-powered three-wheelers as it looks to replace traditional but noisy and dirty bush taxis.
“It’s cheaper and relaxing!” says local trader Sandrine Tetelo, of the Chinese-made “Saloni” or “Antara” tricycles, which could eventually spell the end for old-school “woro-woro” four-wheelers as Jacqueville looks to make itself Ivory Coast’s premier eco city. The mini-cars, 2.7 metres long and two metres high, are covered in solar panels each fitted out with six 12-volt batteries, giving the vehicles a range of 140 kilometres. Returning from a visit to China, the solar cars’ promoter Marc Togbe pitched his plan to mayor Joachim Beugre, who was immediately sold.
“We are used to seeing [typically old and beaten up] bush taxis pollute the atmosphere and the environment. We said to ourselves, if we could only replace them by solar trikes,” says Beugre.
“The adventure started in January with two little cars,” adds Togbe, who has created a partnership with local businessman Balla Konate. “I went to China with a friend,” says Konate, “and afterwards I sent four youngsters to Lome for training with a friend who had spoken to me about the project.”
He wants to extend operations to Odienne and Korhogo, towns in the north, the country’s sunniest region. “Today, a dozen cars are up and running. We are right in the test phase. More and more people are asking for them,” says Beugre, seeing a chance to kill several birds with one solar stone.
Long isolated, his town, nestled between a laguna and the sea, has flourished in terms of real estate and tourism since the 2015 inauguration of a bridge linking Jacqueville to the mainland and cutting transit time to Abidjan to less than an hour.
For the start of the school year in October, Jacqueville plans to bring on stream a 22-seater “solar coach” designed to help deal with “the thorny issue of pupils’ transport”. Many schoolchildren typically have to travel tens of kilometres from their home village to urban schools.
So far, the tuk-tuks have also provided work for around 20 people including drivers and mechanics. “We’re on the go from six in the morning and finish around 10 or even midnight, weekends too,” says Philippe Aka Koffi, a 24-year-old who has been working as a driver for five months.
Full stroy: The Nation Thailand