As a boda rider from Kampala, Uganda, I am very glad that the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), an important international occasion where governments will meet to accelerate the global efforts to tackle the climate crisis, is happening in Africa. This will be an opportunity to highlight the essential role that informal transport plays in the transition to sustainable, low carbon transport.
Informal transport dominates many African streets. In some cities, up to 80% of the population relies on informal transport1. This includes the use of minibus taxis and other private vehicles for hire. Informal transport often relies on privately owned, second-hand vehicles, which tend to face less government oversight than formal public transport services. This can result in poorly maintained vehicles, unsafe driver behaviour and fierce competition among operators for routes and passengers.
As an increasingly popular transport mode in rapidly urbanising cities across the region, informal transport operators play a critical role in accelerating sustainable, low carbon mobility solutions. However, most operators are insufficiently informed about the climate crisis; their views and interests are hardly represented in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted under the Paris Agreement – no specific target or policy actions have been reported so far on this important mode of transport. Also, the majority of operators are not prepared to face the operational challenges that come with the transition to clean and electric vehicles. At the same time, the large number of people who depend on informal transport for their day-to-day mobility needs are similarly under-informed and have very little trust in this new technology (e.g. battery durations, charging infrastructure coverage etc.). This points to a growing gap in expectations between operators and users.
By Geofrey Ndhogezi aka Lubyanza
The key to accelerating transport decarbonisation in the Global South lies in transitioning diverse informal transportation vehicle fleets to zero-emission vehicles powered by clean energy. Supporting this transition can create a pathway towards inclusive, sustainable and decarbonised transport.The blog is part of the series, “The Role of Informal Transportation for an Inclusive Race to Zero in the Global South”, which is a collaboration between the Global Partnership for Informal Transportation and the SLOCAT Partnership with the support of the Agence Française de Développement (AFD).
It is therefore imperative that we respond by engaging, rather than excluding, informal transport operators in the fight against climate change. To do so, we can promote the transition of informal transport vehicle fleets to zero-emission vehicles powered by clean energy by focusing on these aspects:
- Sensitising the general public: An extensive climate change literacy survey by Simpson et al. (2021) concludes that “increased climate change literacy, together with indigenous and local knowledge practices, can lead to more informed climate change adaptation across Africa”. The study finds that the average national climate change literacy rate is 37%, which shows the need to put emphasis on sensitisation for the general public to learn about the dangers of the climate crisis and the purpose of adopting effective solutions such as informal transport.
- Adopting subsidies schemes to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles: Tax waivers on electric mobility equipment and services are proven policy measures to boost the adoption of electric vehicles. Similar policy actions can be utilised to accelerate the uptake of electric motorcycles, tuk tuks and other forms of clean vehicles in the informal transport industry.
- Investing in overcoming day-to-day operation challenges: Insufficient charging stations, nearly inaccessible spare parts and concerns of passengers whenever informal transport drivers make slight detours to visit unfamiliar charging stations, contribute to many people finding the use of electric boda bodas cumbersome. Governments should prioritise a portion of the national budget for electric mobility infrastructure (e.g. swap stations and charging stations) to reduce day-to-day operation concerns, attract more informal transport drivers to acquire electric vehicles and encourage the public to embrace the change.
- Streamlining supply chain: Many informal transport operators refuse to transition to electric vehicles due to limited access to supplies of equipment and spare parts. ICE vehicles have accessible spare parts and fuels and their durability is well tested. If the design of electric vehicles was more compatible with conventional ICE vehicles, then electric vehicle startups could focus more on producing parts specific to the new technology. Adopting universally accessible electric vehicle standards would also ease the sourcing process.
While country delegates and stakeholders gather at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, we should note that many African participants are likely to be high-profile government officials with relatively higher standards of living and less experience in using informal transport. If local users’ voices are not heard, discussions and decisions made at COP27 will still not reflect what is truly needed in the region. To close this gap, we must actively engage informal transport operators to voice out their lessons learned and ideas in this international process to catalyse meaningful, pragmatic transformations in African cities.
12021. SLOCAT Transport and Climate Change Global Status Report – 2nd edition. Focus Feature on Paratransit. https://bit.ly/3wW3IRI