A Kenyan university will start a bike-sharing initiative to reduce congestion and economic losses due to traffic blockages in Nairobi, the capital city of East Africa’s biggest economy.
The University of Nairobi through its innovative hub, Computing for Development Laboratory (CD4Lab) partnered with the United Nations Habitat in what will be Africa’s first bicycle-sharing scheme.
The pilot project is already underway in the university’s campus in the capital city, with students using four bikes that have been provided by Buffalo Bike, a U.S. manufacturer.
“Every day we see Nairobians walking through Uhuru Park to and from Upper Hill. For some it is out of choice, perhaps they want to keep fit and others dread getting stuck in traffic,” Professor Tonny Omwansa, the scheme’s architect and a lecturer at the university was quoted by Nairobi News.
City planners warned that if Nairobi whose population is about 4 million continues to add cars at the current rate without an upgrade on its road infrastructure, the average driving speed will be cut by half from the current 40 kilometers an hour, by 2030.
Currently, commuters spend hours stuck in traffic jams and the city loses $500,000 every day due to traffic snarl-ups, reported Financial Times.
The United Nations-Habitat has provided 1 million shillings (about $10,000) for the project as part of its programme to promote sustainable mobility in cities across the world.
The bike-sharing scheme will help at least 40 percent of Nairobi’s population that uses bicycle as an alternative means of transport, according to C4DLab.
Under the scheme, bikes will be located near public transport stations where riders can use them for short trips and return it to designated stations within their destinations.
The users, including the disabled will be trained on how the programme works. Cheap but strong helmets will be provided. There will also be solar-powered bikes for the hilly terrains.
Customers will pay about Sh 1000 as an annual subscription fee for the services. Number plates, alarm systems with location-sensing capabilities and colors and reflectors for identification are some of the measures in place to curb theft.
“Intel is willing to provide GPS tracking chips that will be installed on the bikes so that we don’t have to worry about theft. We are bringing partners on board in different capacities,” Omwansa told Nairobi News.
The project however is faced with several challenges that should be addressed.
Bicycle-riding is widely seen as a means for the poor who can barely pay for public transport or even purchase personal cars.
“If you are riding a bicycle, it means you must be broke, whereas it’s prestigious to have a car. We have to change the mindset, and we can build a different story about what the bike is for,” Omwasa added.
The Nairobi scheme will enlist elected officials and celebrities to be among the first riders as part of plans to change the poor mentality and culture on bicycle riding.
The move will be similar to Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London whose love for the city’s shared bike programme led to the nickname, “Boris Bikes.”
Apart from attitude, motorcycle taxi drivers, popularly known as boda boda operators, might feel insecure on possible loss of customers and proper awareness should be undertaken before the scheme is rolled out in the city.
Currently, 49 percent of all trips in Kenya are made through non-motorized transport (cycling and walking), with public transport accounting for 42 percent while private cars take up a paltry nine percent.
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