Economics of Motorbike means of transportation in West Africa: How sustainable is it?

Created on 15 Jun 2016
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Kossi Atsou-Dzini

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The objective of this paper is to question the rapidly growing motorcycles parks in Africa and their environmental sustainability, and discuss a number of mitigating policies. The first section presents the recent developments on motorcycle means of transport. The second section deals with the sustainability challenges that they pose and the third section suggests a number of policy actions. The last section concludes.

Recent developments

Started timidly two to three decades ago as a result of social adjustment programs, motorcycles have invaded cities and rural areas of a number of West African countries. Some countries in the Central Africa are also exposed to the same challenges which are confronting the West Africans. Known as Okada in Nigeria, Zemidjan in Benin and Togo and called by other names elsewhere, mototaxis or motorcycle means of transport have become a source of living income for a growing number of people.

This sector activity, which is being more or less structured in some countries, has made room for both university graduates and people with little or no formal education to circumvent the rigidities of job markets and high levels of unemployment in these countries. They also open avenues for some limited upstream activities in terms of importations and assembling of the parts of motorbikes, while a great number of roadside repairers intervene in the chain of maintenance.

According to estimates, seven out of 10 people ride motorcycles in their effort to access their daily activities. Convenient, fast and able to access areas that cars cannot for several reasons of which inadequate road networks, they have been competing well with other public means of transportation, especially public transportation, given that policies focused primarily on roads. They pose, however, a heavy toll on human lives on account of the multitude of road accidents they are involved in. During the past five years, over 80% of fatal road accidents in Togo for instance involved motorcycles.

In spite of their relatively positive effects, environmental impact of motorbikes is increasing with their park. Is this evolution sustainable?

Sustainability challenges

At current trends, one can expect a proportion of 5 motorbikes per car within the next ten years in Togo. Indeed, over the past five years, about 70% of motor vehicles registered are motorbikes. This poses a question of sustainability with regards to their environmental impact. Likewise cars, but however at a lesser extent, their greenhouse gas emissions are on the growing side as they are also fossil fuel propelled. On a free market economy, regulations can hardly prohibit them. Moreover, it may be a political suicide if the government has to put an end to their operations in some countries. They are contributing to government budgets and providing jobs and relatively sizeable income to families.

With respect to this picture, what could be the policy options that would help mitigate motorbikes and cars compounded environmental impacts?

Policy options

Possible policy actions are presented below: some can be quickly developed and implement within few years while others may call for a longer period of gestation and implementation.

In the short run, there would be need to: (i) encourage commuting by public transport instead of privately owned motor vehicles (cars and motorcycles) notwithstanding the fact that the cultural and social aspects of achievements and promotions associated with the possession of private vehicles would be lost; (ii) redesign and implement policies prohibiting the circulation of certain motor vehicles in certain areas, for instance downtowns, while authorizing cycling and walking in an effort to contribute to the reduction of gas emissions. A number of advanced economies such as Germany, USA and France are already implementing such policies and it is wished that most countries either developed or emergent follow these steps.

Mid to long term policies call for actions that would:

  1. deal with the fossil fuelled engines that equipped motorcycles. It would therefore be advisable to encourage constructors to develop electricity or solar propelled motorbikes engines in the course of progress made in science and technology in this regards. In addition, other renewable energy such as bio-fuel would also contribute to reduce motorbikes’ emissions;
  2. provide incentives to domestic scientists to accelerate the process of change by engaging in research that could translate into the use of electricity or batteries to power these engines.

This change could not effectively materialize without a deliberate effort to train a new generation of maintenance agents, all things that would contribute to open new economic activities in the motorbike sector.

Conclusion

In conclusion, even though, motor vehicles’ gas emissions in developing countries are far below the levels in developed economies, the fast growing pace of the park of motorcycles in these countries, compounded with that of particularly over aged cars, would require innovative strategies in order to deal with future environmental challenges at early stages. This paper discussed a number of policies which implemented would help mitigate the negative environmental impacts that would arise.

Economics of Motorbike means of transportation in West Africa: How sustainable is it?

The objective of this paper is to question the rapidly growing motorcycles parks in Africa and their environmental sustainability, and discuss a number of mitigating policies. The first section presents the recent developments on motorcycle means of transport. The second section deals with the sustainability challenges that they pose and the third section suggests a number of policy actions. The last section concludes.

Recent developments

Started timidly two to three decades ago as a result of social adjustment programs, motorcycles have invaded cities and rural areas of a number of West African countries. Some countries in the Central Africa are also exposed to the same challenges which are confronting the West Africans. Known as Okada in Nigeria, Zemidjan in Benin and Togo and called by other names elsewhere, mototaxis or motorcycle means of transport have become a source of living income for a growing number of people.

This sector activity, which is being more or less structured in some countries, has made room for both university graduates and people with little or no formal education to circumvent the rigidities of job markets and high levels of unemployment in these countries. They also open avenues for some limited upstream activities in terms of importations and assembling of the parts of motorbikes, while a great number of roadside repairers intervene in the chain of maintenance.

According to estimates, seven out of 10 people ride motorcycles in their effort to access their daily activities. Convenient, fast and able to access areas that cars cannot for several reasons of which inadequate road networks, they have been competing well with other public means of transportation, especially public transportation, given that policies focused primarily on roads. They pose, however, a heavy toll on human lives on account of the multitude of road accidents they are involved in. During the past five years, over 80% of fatal road accidents in Togo for instance involved motorcycles.

In spite of their relatively positive effects, environmental impact of motorbikes is increasing with their park. Is this evolution sustainable?

Sustainability challenges

At current trends, one can expect a proportion of 5 motorbikes per car within the next ten years in Togo. Indeed, over the past five years, about 70% of motor vehicles registered are motorbikes. This poses a question of sustainability with regards to their environmental impact. Likewise cars, but however at a lesser extent, their greenhouse gas emissions are on the growing side as they are also fossil fuel propelled. On a free market economy, regulations can hardly prohibit them. Moreover, it may be a political suicide if the government has to put an end to their operations in some countries. They are contributing to government budgets and providing jobs and relatively sizeable income to families.

With respect to this picture, what could be the policy options that would help mitigate motorbikes and cars compounded environmental impacts?

Policy options

Possible policy actions are presented below: some can be quickly developed and implement within few years while others may call for a longer period of gestation and implementation.

In the short run, there would be need to: (i) encourage commuting by public transport instead of privately owned motor vehicles (cars and motorcycles) notwithstanding the fact that the cultural and social aspects of achievements and promotions associated with the possession of private vehicles would be lost; (ii) redesign and implement policies prohibiting the circulation of certain motor vehicles in certain areas, for instance downtowns, while authorizing cycling and walking in an effort to contribute to the reduction of gas emissions. A number of advanced economies such as Germany, USA and France are already implementing such policies and it is wished that most countries either developed or emergent follow these steps.

Mid to long term policies call for actions that would:

  1. deal with the fossil fuelled engines that equipped motorcycles. It would therefore be advisable to encourage constructors to develop electricity or solar propelled motorbikes engines in the course of progress made in science and technology in this regards. In addition, other renewable energy such as bio-fuel would also contribute to reduce motorbikes’ emissions;
  2. provide incentives to domestic scientists to accelerate the process of change by engaging in research that could translate into the use of electricity or batteries to power these engines.

This change could not effectively materialize without a deliberate effort to train a new generation of maintenance agents, all things that would contribute to open new economic activities in the motorbike sector.

Conclusion

In conclusion, even though, motor vehicles’ gas emissions in developing countries are far below the levels in developed economies, the fast growing pace of the park of motorcycles in these countries, compounded with that of particularly over aged cars, would require innovative strategies in order to deal with future environmental challenges at early stages. This paper discussed a number of policies which implemented would help mitigate the negative environmental impacts that would arise.


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