Shared Micromobility in Africa
11 June, 2020
Africa is quite left behind when it comes to shared micromobility development. The local urban and economical context is making things complex for local entrepreneurs or renowned foreign operators who would like to settle in one of the numerous African mega-cities.
As the population is craving for solutions against congestion, some projects have emerged, but struggled to initiate a large adoption, on the opposite of what is happening with ride-hailing (using motorbikes or cars) in the continent.
A specific situation
The lack of long-term urban planning had a huge impact on transport in most African mega-cities. In the past decades, authorities struggled to foresee how would their cities mutate and did not adapt their transport services and networks accordingly.
With weak public transport services, paratransit options flourished: matatus in Nairobi (Kenya), Kekes and Okadas in Lagos (Nigeria), trô-trôs in Accra (Ghana). But the lack of organisation and knowledge of those services – balanced by great initiatives such as Digital Matatus – results in a less efficient system and… more congestion.
The road infrastructure is also running late in most cities. Forget about bike lanes or identified parking spaces for motorbikes or bikes. As a reminder, the main brake to bicycle usage in Western countries is safety. Would you cycle here ?
Some explanations to the boom of the taxi services, whatever the -motorised- vehicle: Bolt or Uber are doing well in many countries, while local moto-taxi start-ups are competing to win markets as in Lagos, Nigeria. No need for specific infrastructure, just a different usage of well-known vehicles.
These obstacles to the development of shared micromobility services are nonetheless not impossible to overcome, and bike-share initiatives have grown around the continent. The first of its kind launched in Marrakech (Morroco) in November 2016 for the COP22. With 310 bikes in 10 stations, Medina Bike is still the only African dock-based service (with its spin-off in Agadir). But facing difficulties to find sponsors and a lack of governmental support, the project is now at stake.
The wave of dockless shared-bikes coming from China did bud ideas in local entrepreneurs brains. Awa Bike, a Nigerian start-up founded in 2017, launched its first services in different University campuses of Lagos in May 2019. The COVID-19 crisis with strict lock-down rules may have put the company in a difficult situation, as I struggled to get more information about their future.
Gura Ride followed a similar path. Founded in 2018, the micromobility operator is currently working to launch in 6 cities, including the capital city of Kigali. Gura developed a full “Made in Rwanda” solution with locally assembled bikes and e-bikes, and might introduce e-scooters in the future.
In November 2019, Lime announced the coming launch of the first e-scooter sharing service of the continent in Cape Town (South Africa). Will the COVID-19 crisis just postpone the launch, expected in early 2020, or simply cancel it due to the financial difficulty of the American company? Time will tell.
What to expect ?
Bike-sharing is taking roots thanks to ambitious local companies, a good way to raise people’s awareness of the benefits of shared micromobility. But the real game-changer will be the Governments will to fight congestion and trigger mode switch.
E-bikes and even e-scooters might benefit from the will of many countries to embrace electric mobility against air pollution, and the consequent implementation of charging infrastructure: Rwanda is in the process to eliminate gas motorcycles, an e-taxi service and e-car charging network are available in Zimbabwe…
A harder step will be to deploy specific infrastructure for micromobility riders. As for the chicken and the egg, will riders create the need for bicycle lanes or bicycle lanes put riders on wheels? Johannesburg believed in the second hypothesis, but had to stop its bike lanes program to invest in “more pressing needs”.
Finally, governments will have to work in order to change mentalities regarding transport. Education, legislation, are tools to argue that cycling (or riding a scooter) is a real transport alternative and not only a leisure tool. As for European countries, reconsidering the bicycle status will take time.