How to move towards safer and more sustainable mobility in Africa

How to move towards safer and more sustainable mobility in Africa
How to move towards safer and more sustainable mobility in Africa

Africa-Press – Tanzania. African countries receive more used vehicles than anywhere else in the world. This poses significant concerns about the safety and sustainability of the vehicles on African roads. Oluleke O. Babayomi highlights the necessity and opportunities for affordable light-duty electric vehicles to close the mobility gap for the disadvantaged in the region.

Transportation systems are the largest and fastest growing users of energy in developed countries. Because of this, the creation of sustainable transportation systems is needed to facilitate the mass movement of both goods and people without compromising environmental security. Africa needs sustainable mobility solutions that prioritise affordability and safety to boost economic development and protect the environment.

Used vehicle market in Africa

Across Africa, 85 out of every 100 vehicles weren’t purchased new. Africa is the world’s biggest market for used vehicles, accounting for 40 per cent of the global share. Half of these used vehicles fail the fuel economy, exhaust emissions, and safety standards of their source countries. As a result, they pose higher environmental and safety risks to their second-hand buyers. Only 14 per cent of light-duty public vehicles in Addis Ababa passed standard emissions tests.

Practical pathways are needed to improve the environmental cleanliness and safety of the vehicles on Africa’s roads. This will include increasing the quality of used vehicles imported into the region and making affordable new vehicles available to buyers.

Solutions for safer and sustainable mobility

In the past decade, concerted efforts have been made to improve the quality of used vehicles imported into Africa. Several countries have reduced the permissible age of vehicles that are imported to their borders: In 2021, West African and East African countries harmonised their age limit of imported used cars to 5 years old. Meanwhile, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has begun to promote initiatives to regulate the quality of cars exported from European countries.

Other means of improving environmental sustainability and safety on African roads are more recent: through lower-cost new electric two- and three-wheelers. According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, one out of five registered road vehicles in Africa were two/three-wheelers. Apart from their affordability, these vehicles are also easier to drive and are highly adaptable to the vast rural terrains in the region. These electric two/three wheelers are a more viable option because they do not require the deployment of extensive specialised charging infrastructure and can easily be charged from existing electrical sockets in homes and commercial buildings.

Since only 1 per cent of the 27 million two/three-wheelers in Africa are electric, there is a huge opportunity to decarbonise the fleet. This opportunity also poses unique challenges because while the cost of purchasing an electric two/three-wheeler is higher than its internal combustion engine equivalent, the operational cost of the electric vehicle is 30 to 80 per cent lower than the cost of fuelling an ICE vehicle.

Case studies

Mobility for Africa (MFA) is a women-led start-up in Zimbabwe that empowers women in rural communities through shared transport solutions. MFA provides a fully serviced fleet of three-wheeled electric vehicles, complete with purpose-built batteries and clean-powered battery-swapping service. MFA’s customers report higher financial returns from affordable transportation to move their agricultural produce to markets, as well as timely access to healthcare for their children at primary healthcare centres.

Ampersand E-mobility, founded in 2014, caters to the urban and peri-urban markets. Ampersand promotes electromobility by selling (or leasing) electric motorcycles and supporting their customers with battery-as-a-service, where the driver swaps discharged batteries with charged ones without being delayed by charging time. The company now has a fleet of more than 1,350 motorcycles, and supporting infrastructure that was financed by debt and equity in excess of £17.45 million.

Electric buses and mini trucks make up another group of solutions that are gradually gaining traction in the region. In January 2024, Senegal deployed several electric buses to support its mass-transit fleet. Nonetheless, several questions about the viability of this strategy need to be answered. For instance, how the charging infrastructure will be managed, considering that most African countries have unreliable grid electricity supply. Also, how to ensure there are enough fast-charging locations on highways, and the long-term safety and maintenance of such infrastructure needs to be considered.

The challenge of the growing air pollution from Africa’s roads can be overcome by increasing the availability of electric two- and three-wheeler light-duty vehicles for transporting both passengers and cargo and improving the quality of used imported vehicles. The first steps have been made, but more progress is needed.


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