Kenya embraces electric vehicles, with boda-boda riders like Moses Lugalia leading the charge towards greener transport.
Moses Lugalia has joined Kenya's electric vehicle revolution, swapping his petrol motorbike for a quieter, electric one. This 27-year-old motorbike taxi driver, known locally as a "boda-boda" rider, switched to save money amid rising fuel prices.
Motorbike taxis are common in Kenya for their affordability and ease in navigating Nairobi's traffic jams. Lugalia, a five-year veteran in this business, used to spend over $6 daily on petrol. Now, as an electric boda-boda rider, he spends just $1.42 per day, boosting his profits.
Lugalia charges his bike's battery at swap stations in Nairobi, where a full charge covers about 50 miles. He believes, "Electric is the future in Kenya."
Despite their convenience, many boda-bodas are old and major polluters. They emit less CO2 than cars but more nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, worsening air quality and climate impact. In Nairobi, a city with severe rush-hour congestion, transport contributes to 40% of air pollution.
Kenya, contributing just 2-3% of global greenhouse gases, disproportionately suffers from climate change effects. Yet, the government sees greener transport as key to meeting climate goals, targeting over 200,000 electric bikes on the road by 2024. E-bikes emit 75% fewer greenhouse gases than traditional motorcycles.
So far, about 2,000 riders have switched to electric. Kenya's abundant renewable energy sources make it an ideal market for electric bikes. Despite droughts affecting hydro-power, there's potential to expand geothermal, solar, and wind energy.
Several Kenyan startups are manufacturing and selling electric motorcycles, offering affordable loans to boda-boda drivers. Lugalia sold his petrol bike, using the proceeds for a down payment on an electric model, paying off the $1,500 balance in daily installments.
The battery, the most expensive component, remains company-owned, explains Steve Juma of Ecobodaa. Battery-swap points are now common in Nairobi, located in malls, petrol stations, and eateries.
Lugalia easily swaps batteries using an app. However, outside the city, the lack of charging infrastructure deters many riders. Concerns about cost and limited range also hinder wider adoption.
Despite these challenges, the Kenyan government envisions streets filled with e-motorcycles. They aim to phase out traditional boda-bodas. Limited infrastructure beyond Nairobi remains an obstacle, but private sector investment could expand this initiative.
Kenyan Roads and Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen believes Nairobi's success can inspire nationwide investment. Several companies have ambitious plans. Roam intends to produce 8,000 electric motorcycles by next year. Spiro plans 3,000 battery stations across Kenya, while Arc-Ride aims to build 1,000 electric vehicles and over 300 battery stations in Nairobi by 2024.
Arc-Ride is also targeting female drivers, who are currently just 1% of the industry. They've approached drivers like Carol Kamal, a journalism graduate turned boda-boda rider, to test electric models. Impressed by their efficiency, Kamal is now saving to switch to electric.
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