Boda boda riders question viability of Museveni’s electric cycle swap policy

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | President Museveni’s ambitious e-mobility plan has been received with some doubts among cyclists.

In his address to the nation on New Year’s eve, President Museveni said the government had made a plan that would in the long run reduce the number of fuel-powered motorcycles in the country.

The main target is the boda-boda cyclists, who are said to account for more than 80 percent of the Ugandan motorcycle market. With time, the roads could be filled with thousands of noiseless cycles if the policy is implemented.

According to Museveni, they are in talks with some motorcycle assembling companies in Uganda, which according to the draft policy, will be withdrawing the petrol-powered cycles from the road and the cyclists given a battery-powered one.

“We have agreed with some investors to take away the petrol-diesel ones and give the owners electric ones, free of course. Just swap,” said Museveni.

Museveni said that the investor will foot the extra cost of the new electric motorcycle which is expected to be more expensive than the fuel-powered one. They will then recoup their investment from a fee paid by the now electric motorcycle owners when they take them for charging.

However, this has raised some questions amongst motorcycle owners, with some questioning how the issue of brand and efficiency would be handled.

“I own a Bajaj Boxer and it is the one I intend to buy again when this one is disposed of. But if I take it for the exchange, what type would they give me? I like my boxer, while another one loves a TVS,” said Musa Katende, boda-boda cyclist in Kampala.

Some cyclists in Kamwokya who preferred anonymity claimed that they have observed that electric cycles are not as durable as fuel-powered ones.

“We have our colleagues who have them, but they are already dilapidated, less than two years on the road,” they said, adding that the cost saved on fuel might instead go towards maintaining the condition of the vehicle.

However, an analysis of the fuel consumption compared to what is spent on electric cycles shows that at the end of the five-year period, the operator of an electric one will have saved up to 38 million shillings.

But the main question that they need the government to answer is the issue of the cycles that are still owned by credit companies.

Cyclists say that most of the machines, at least for boda-bodas, are acquired on loan either from financial companies or importing and assembling companies.

According to them, it takes between a year and two to clear it depending on the area of operation and the terms of payment.

They also questioned the ease of charging a battery, saying it is risky when going on a long journey when the battery runs out, yet there are very few charging stations.

One of the companies contacted by the government through the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation is BodaWerk International Uganda Ltd, an innovative energy solution company.

According to the company which did not discuss the details of the deal with the government, they both assemble new electric cycles or modify existing ones from petrol consumption to battery-powered ones.

Monday Shadrack, the Technical Sales Manager Manager at BodaWerk explains that when they get a motorcycle, they remove all the combustion and engine systems from the cycle and replace them with motor, battery, and controllers. So a customer has the option of either buying a new motorcycle that goes for up to 11 million Shillings or having their current one converted at the cost of 8 million. The batteries are made by recycling lithium dry cells and the battery is given a 5-year lifespan.

When the battery is fully charged, it can go for up to 150 kilometers, depending on the load, and the cycle has a sensor that shows how much battery power is left and the estimated distance it can go.

There are currently about 10 charging stations in Kampala, especially at fuel stations, including Kabalagala Shell Station, Najjanankumbi Stella stage, TotalEnergies-Namungoona, Kanyanya Gaz station as well as Mukono opposite TotalEnergies station.

However, BodaWerk says they have accessories they give to their cyclists that can enable them to charge from anywhere including at home if the house is powered.

Charging at a commercial station costs 3,000 and 5,000 Shillings while it takes a battery four to five hours to get fully charged.

With this, the government and the suppliers will have to find a position where charging stations will remain viable even as people can have cycles charged from their homes so that the companies are able to recoup their investments.

Another company in talks with the government is Zembo Motorcycles, another electric cycle assembler, also based in Ntinda.

Last year at the Presidential CEO Summit at Chobe in Zombo, President Museveni said that the government would also encourage Uganda Development Bank-UDB to give loans to those who wanted to buy electric motorcycles.

There are also credit companies like M-Kopa that provide hire-purchase services for motorcycles.

Boda-boda cyclists asked that the government launch consultations and sensitization campaigns with them to respond to the questions that they have.

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