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'Green bikes' hit the roads in Nairobi

Updated: 2015-07-17 10:49
By Philip Etyang in Nairobi (China Daily Africa)

Chinese-made new-energy vehicles aim to crack the African market with economic models

Kenya has not been left behind as the world turns to new-energy solutions, with the country adopting a raft of policies related to the green economy, according to the Green Economy Assessment Report 2014 by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The policies include implementing renewable energy feed-in tariffs in 2008, embedding sustainable natural resource utilization into its 2010 constitution, and highlighting the green economy in its Second Medium Term Plan (2013-2017).

 'Green bikes' hit the roads in Nairobi

A saleswoman chats with a customer about e-bikes at the Chee Tah store in Nairobi, Kenya. Photos Provided to China Daily

 'Green bikes' hit the roads in Nairobi

Small Island e-bikes on display at the showroom in Nairobi's Lunga Lunga Road, Industrial Area.

 'Green bikes' hit the roads in Nairobi

A model poses with a Small Island e-bike in Nairobi.

Other moves highlighted in the UNEP report include the adoption of a national climate change response strategy and an action plan that seeks to embrace a low-carbon development pathway.

"Through the Greening Kenya Initiative, the government has developed a database on green economy activities, which highlights efforts such as in manufacturing eco-friendly materials, tree planting, organic farming, fish farming, renewable energy, eco-labeling, and solid waste management and environmental management," the report reads.

The document was released after a study commissioned by the UNEP at the request of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

In the same vein, a Chinese-owned company that has been in Kenya since 2011 has introduced several models of electric bike aimed at helping to implement a green African economy.

Chee Tah Kenya Ltd, which is based in North China's Hubei province and manufactures and exports Small Island e-bikes, opened a new store in Nairobi's Lunga Lunga Road in early July.

Small Island bicycles have been a common sight in eastern China for decades, and in 2003 the brand began to make e-bikes.

Zhang Xuefeng, director of Chee Tah Kenya Ltd, says that over the past 12 years, the company has successfully ramped up production to more than 500,000 units in minimum annual output and has sold millions of e-bikes in China and across Asia.

'Green bikes' hit the roads in Nairobi

He says the company is focused on introducing e-bikes that are durable, high quality, affordable and environmentally friendly to the African continent, where he believes his company's products have the vast potential to positively impact socio-economic development in a short period of time.

"Chee Tah plans to penetrate the African market by having Nairobi as its base," he adds. "We chose Nairobi because Kenya has a lot of advantages over other African countries. First, it has a growing working-class population who need reliable transport. It has a vibrant and growing economy, and it also has traffic jams."

As in most African countries, road conditions in Kenya can be poor, which is one of the main factors in a high number of traffic accidents. Kenya has an extensive road network that covers 160,886 kilometers, yet less than 50 percent is considered as being in good condition.

"Our e-bikes travel at speeds of 32 to 48 kilometers per hour," Zhang says. "They can be charged from a regular electricity socket and are extremely affordable.

"For the cost of riding a bus or matatu (privately owned minibus) in the current congestion, and considering the safety concerns attributed to motorbikes and their riders, the e-bike saves time, increases productivity, supports a working nation, and is reliable and cost-effective."

The e-bikes' slower speeds make them a safer option compared with conventional motorbikes, which can reach speeds of 120 km/h and over, he adds.

Meanwhile, the National Transport and Safety Authority has threatened to push for higher taxation on motorcycles if industry players do not help to curb the number of accidents.

"We'll push the government to re-introduce the punitive tax on the sector if the companies involved don't work together to educate riders on road safety and discipline," says Francis Meja, the NTSA's director-general.

The NTSA is a state body aimed at harmonizing operations of key road transport departments, as well as helping to effectively manage the transport sub-sectors and minimizing the loss of life through road accidents.

Importers of motorcycles currently pay a 10-percent import duty on completely knocked-down units, which are assembled locally, while fully built units attract a 25-percent tax. In 2008, the authority reduced import tax on CKD units from 16 percent to protect local assemblers against cheap imports.

Zhang says the biggest advantage his e-bikes have over other means of transport in Kenya is that they do not need to be registered with the NTSA because they do not have engines, therefore are not categorized as motor vehicles.

"I held a meeting with the NTSA, and we agreed that, since the bikes do not have an engine capacity, they do need any form of registration."

He also adds that the company plans to open an assembly plant in Nairobi in the next five years that will not only reduce the price of the e-bikes, but will also provide more employment opportunities for Kenyans. The company currently has a workforce of 30 locals and three Chinese directors.

For China Daily

(China Daily Africa Weekly 07/17/2015 page19)

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