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Why boda bodas should go green

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Boda boda operators protest in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Researchers estimate that an average motorcycle pollutes the air 10 times more per mile than a passenger car, a light truck or a sports utility vehicle (SUV).
  • Across the globe, electric motorisation is growing exponentially, and today, there are over 7.2 million electric vehicles, with over 65,000 electric motorcycles.
  • Kisumu County received more than 10 e-motorbikes and will soon start assembling these motorcycles.

Motorbikes are definitely not the safest means of transport around, not in the city at least. Yet without them, dozens of city road users constantly caught up in the thick of morning gridlocks would have missed out on crucial deals, job opportunities or even air flights.

In rural villages where good roads are all castles in the air, the two-wheelers and their semi-skilled operators are doing the last mile connectivity with a surreal authority- confirming how important they have become in the country’s transport sector.

Yet, despite the remarkable gains the bikes have brought into the employment and the transport sectors, their existence and continued use of fossil fuel come at the expense of the environment, human health and climate.

The hydrocarbons and greenhouse gases they emit into the environment every day are dangerous air pollutants which are respiratory health hazards.

Researchers estimate that an average motorcycle pollutes the air 10 times more per mile than a passenger car, a light truck or a sports utility vehicle (SUV).

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) deputy executive director Joyce Msuya notes that besides driving air pollution, burning of fossil fuels is also the leading cause of climate emergency.

Vehicle fleets in developing countries, she says, are set to double in size by 2050. In Nairobi, the fleet doubles every seven to eight years. And while there’s urgent need more for effective public transport, it is unsustainable to keep adding polluting vehicles to our streets, adds Ms Msuya.

She points out that taking petrol and diesel vehicles off our roads is good for human health.

The increased frequency and intensity of droughts and floods, the rising seas, the warming oceans and the extreme weather are severely damaging human ability to thrive, say experts warning that without a major transformation in the world’s transport sector, all of this will continue to get worse.

Last week, UNEP in collaboration with Kenya Power, Powerhive, Kisumu County, and the Friends of Karura Forest launched a pilot of electric motorbikes in a move that could initiate a shift from petroleum-powered motor bicycles to electric powered ones.

Cost effective

“The cost of running electric motorcycles is a fraction of their petrol counterparts. UNEP studies show that boda boda drivers can more than double their income if they make the switch,” notes Ms Msuya, adding that the pilot will enable gathering of vital information to inform the next phase of Kenya’s electric transition.

The world environmental body says that while motorcycles are imported into the country more than cars, the two-wheelers are inefficient, poorly maintained and heavily polluting. Therefore replacing them with electric motorcycles will reduce noise and air pollution, and lower carbon emissions.

Across the globe, electric motorisation is growing exponentially, and today, there are over 7.2 million electric vehicles, with over 65,000 electric motorcycles.

Leading car manufacturers among them Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Mercedes, Mazda, BMW, Ford, Hyundai and Honda have all lined up releases on clean mobility.

The dramatic switch to e-mobility is primarily being driven by the adoption of progressive green energy policies, as the world rallies to save the planet from further environmental degradation.

Besides, the general benefits of the electric motorbikes to the environment, experts leading the implementation of the electric motorbike projects notes that the new breed of bikes cheap to maintain.

Bernard Ngugi, Kenya Power CEO, says the power supplier is eager to leverage opportunities presented by the advancements in various e-mobility technologies, particularly on the battery front which is a big contributor to the growing influence of e-mobility.

Mr Ngugi says they will set up charging facilities across the country beginning with Nairobi to support direct charging of e-vehicles.

He reiterates that while Kenya Power is committed to providing clean, reliable and quality electricity to its customers as they embrace the opportunities presented by electric motorisation, the company is also developing appropriate infrastructure and building internal

“The success of electric mobility in Kenya is reliant on government support. The government has reduced duty charged on electric vehicles from 20 per cent to 10 per cent to encourage the adoption of electric cars locally,” Mr Ngugi says.

Additionally, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development has made provisions for external charging ports to be incorporated into the building standards to support e-mobility charging at residential premises.

Whereas the country’s electric power generation capacity is sufficient to support the charging infrastructure, demand for motorcycles is high, particularly in rural areas, where power supply is inadequate.

But scientists say the challenge may be tackled by using solar energy, setting up charging stations, consulting boda boda operators and using lithium-ion batteries.

Easy conversion

Kisumu Governor Prof Anyan’g Nyong’o whose county was picked to pilot the e-motorbikes says those operating the regular diesel bikes do not have to get rid of the bikes since they can be easily transformed into an electric bikes.

The county received more than 10 e-motorbikes and will soon start assembling these motorcycles.

The governor said that the e-mobility programs fits perfectly with a wider plan of the lake side city’s urban renewal plan of improving the city’s aesthetics and healthy environment.

“Electric motorcycles can also be built and assembled locally, creating green jobs. Electric motorcycles not only mitigate against this health hazard but also help reduce noise pollution that the rampant increase of petroleum powered motorbikes currently causes in our cities,”Prof Nyongo says.