The University of Nairobi launched Africa’s first bike share system this past Friday, February 17th 2017. The Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Mbithi, complemented the system as an innovative approach to tackling congestion in the city. The system, currently operational in Europe and North America, is the first of its kind on the continent.
As the program Expands, it will serve the Central Business District and the Upper Hill Area of Nairobi, where a bulk of government offices and foreign embassies are located. The system will later incorporate select residential neighborhoods.The Architect of the Program, Dr. Omwansa emphasized that scaling up of the system would required government support and investment from private sector companies in terms of infrastructure development and funding.
A bike sharing system is a service where users can rent bicycles on a short term basis at affordable prices. Using the service can help commuters conveniently avoid traffic, thereby getting to their destinations hassle-free. Bike share stations are set up in different points around the city to allow for easy access.
Congestion happens to be a major hurdle to numerous cities, costing millions in revenues daily due to traffic snarl ups. The program is in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 11 of promoting sustainable cities. Cycling is a sure and environmentally friendly means of cutting down on the number of vehicles on the road. According to US institute for transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), as of 2014, over seven hundred and ten cities around the world had the bike sharing system in place, with Spain, Italy and China leading the way.
Dr. Omwansa observed during the launch that people have a mindset where owning a car is prestigious and that needs to change. He reiterated that cycling being affordable and accessible would be viable alternative for the Nairobi commuter.
In Kenya, the system is currently in its pilot phase, operating within the town campuses of the University of Nairobi. Supported by a grant from UN Habitat, 30 bicycles are operational where students can rent out the bicycles at the Graduation Square Station.
The pilot project is testing the market and aiding in rate adjustment and devising reliable payment methods: This research will help in selecting suitable bike designs and locating docking stations. An hour ride costs KSH40 with KSH100 for each additional hour. Interestingly, a majority of the riders who have shown to be more responsive to idea of cycling are ladies.
Much as the concept is inspiring, there are concerns of its practicality in Nairobi streets. For this bike sharing system to be successful locally however, the program will need to address issues such as the rarity of cycling lanes, coupled with the chaotic Nairobi roads and a prevalence of theft cases.
“We will take certain innovative measures to reduce theft,” assured Dr. Omwansa. The bicycles have number plates for identification. Most noteworthy, an alarm system with Geo-sensing capabilities and cloud technology will track the bicycles in real time.