African cities of late have not been receptive towards motorcycles as a form of urban transport. They present challenges to cities, but they fill a huge void created by the lack of reliable public transport systems.
Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, was the latest city to ban motorcycles. The city said that the reason it was banning motorcycles was to curb crime. The logic put forth by the city's mayor is that criminals use motorcycles when robbing people, hence the urgent need to ban them.
The ban is not a universal blanket. Exempted from this ban are licenced businesses with motorcycles and who use them such as postal carriers and motorcycles used by diplomatic missions. But some delivery companies say that their motorbikes have been seized by the authorities.
The motorcycles are creating the problem of congestion in urban areas, and this gives rise to the city authorities banning them. Other cities that have placed restrictions on motorcycles include Lagos, Monrovia, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Nairobi.
But what does the trend of banning motorcycles reveal? What does it mean when the sales of motorcycles in Africa are expected to cross the $9 billion mark by 2022?
At the heart of this is a growing gap created by the lack of reliable transport in Africa's rapidly urbanizing cities. Populations are growing, urbanization is fast increasing, and yet there is an acute absence of reliable public transport. Motorcycles have filled this void. But in filling that void, they have created headaches for the city authorities across African cities.
Addis Ababa for example has 100 million people, but the city has roughly fewer than 1 million cars. Ethiopia produces about 8,000 commercial and private cars, a far cry from the country's gigantic demand. Kenya now registers about 16,000 motorcycles per month, and repairing motorbikes is one of the new sources of employment for the people there.
In West Africa, motorcycles have been used to address the almost non-existent public transport systems in the face of rapid urbanization.
After motorcyclists torched a bus that had hit and killed a motorcyclist, Monrovia decided to effect a ban on motorcycles. Other cities that have also effected bans on motorcycles include Bujumbura, Maiduguri, and Kampala has for long been trying to put in place regulations aimed at these two-wheelers.
There is a need in attempting to strike a balance between banning motorcycles in order to reduce crime, and also in order to create some sort of sanity within city centres.
At the same time, African cities need to invest more in building infrastructure that supports reliable public transport.
As of now, motorcycles are sources of great convenience to Africans; providing employment, and affordable transportation. Banning without proper long term solutions may not be the most desirable option.
Either way, it's a big headache for African cities. The fact that the sales of motorcycles are rising should make the authorities question their public transport systems.
Header image credit - Africa Report