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.