Photo: UNEP

E-Boda-Bodas: a promising solution for transport in East Africa

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a pilot project for electric bikes in Kenya on 2 March. Following the pilot phase at four sites in Kenya, the project will be extended to other countries in East Africa.

“Kenya imports more motorcycles than cars and doubles its fleet every 7-8 years. These are usually inefficient and poorly maintained, polluting motorcycles,” said Joyce Msuya, UNEP Deputy Executive Director. “Kenya’s electricity supply is very environmentally friendly in 2019, as more than 80% is generated by hydropower, solar, geothermal and wind power. Switching to electric bikes in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and elsewhere will reduce costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs.”

“An average motorcycle is estimated to cause ten times more pollutants per kilometre than a car, small truck or SUV. Hydrocarbons are dangerous to human health,” said Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, governor of Kisumu County. “Electric motorcycles not only mitigate this health hazard, but also help to reduce the noise pollution that is currently causing the rampant increase in gasoline-powered motorcycles in our cities.”

The pilot project aims to help policymakers assess the obstacles to accepting much-needed technological change towards electric bikes and to show that change is feasible and achievable. In Kenya, the number of newly registered motorcycles, commonly used as taxis (boda-boda), was estimated at 1.5 million in 2018 and is expected to rise to more than five million by 2030. Although developing countries have the fastest growing motorcycle fleets, most countries lack vehicle emission standards or programs and incentives to promote zero-emission vehicles.

The pilot trial, which has now been launched in Kenya, is based on a study carried out by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, the University of Nairobi and Sustainable Transport Africa. The pilot will involve a variety of local partners, including ministries and national and subnational authorities, and will use bikes donated by Shenzhen Shenling Car Company Limited (TAILG). It will take 6-12 months and will be replicated in Uganda, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The overarching project “Integrating Electric 2&3 Wheelers into Existing Urban Transport Modes in Developing and Transitional Countries” is supported by UNEP with funds from the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry of the Environment.

Two- and three-wheelers are a central mode of transport in many low- and middle-income countries, including Africa. Their number will increase by 50 percent by 2050. Highly polluting two- and three-wheelers can be responsible for the same amount of emissions as a car. A rapid global shift to electric motorcycles could save 11 billion tons of CO2 and about 350 billion U.S. dollars by 2050 (more than double annual u.S. energy-related emissions and about 14 times Kenya’s 2019/2020 budget).

To accelerate the transition to electric mobility, investments in charging infrastructure are needed. Kenya’s power generation capacity is sufficient to support the charging infrastructure. But while demand for motorcycles is high, especially in rural areas, distribution networks are inadequate. However, this challenge can be addressed through the use of solar energy, the installation of charging stations, the advice of boda-boda operators and the use of lithium-ion batteries.

The UNEP Programme for Electromobility (eMob) promotes the transition of low-income countries to zero-emission vehicles, in accordance with the UN Environment Assembly resolution on air quality and the Paris Agreement.