The City of Kigali has partnered with Guraride — a public bike-share (PBS) transport system company — to provide safe, reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally clean micro-mobility solutions to Rwandans.

Guraride was founded by Tony B. Adesina and Agenor Jean-Louis in 2017, with the goal of migrating transportation from fossil-fuel based to renewable low-carbon options. To achieve this, the company developed an app allowing users to choose their bike of preference from smart bikes, electric scooters and electric bikes. Through the Guraride mobile app, Rwandans can use GPS to locate nearby docking stations.

Guraride docking stations in Kigali, Rwanda. Image: Guraride

In a June 14, 2021 Twitter update, Tony B. Adesina announced that “after 3 years plus of being on this amazing project, I am beyond ecstatic to share the progress we’ve made” on the “deployment of docking stations and bicycles in partnership with City of Kigali for the Public Bikeshare Scheme.”

Kigali is the economic, political and administrative hub of Rwanda. Nearly 10 percent of the country’s population of 12.63 million live in Kigali. To relieve the urbanization pressure on the capital city, the national government has been developing six other regional cities: Musanze, Rubavu, Huye, Rusizi, Nyagatare and Muhanga. Guraride which is marketed as “a fun and affordable way to get around cities and campuses” has set up docking stations at various strategic locations in Kigali, Musanze, and Rubavu.

Adesina and Erhabor inspecting e-bikes in a docking station

According to Google Play statistics, Guraride app currently has approximately 1000 downloads, and a rating of 3.6 rating from 16 reviews, with comments awash with complaints about functionality issues. Despite the excitement, there are reports indicating that the yellow and blue bikes have remained docked for over two months due to issues related to upgrading the app.

With the recent launch, Adesina is upbeat that after five years of working on the idea of a public bike-share system in Africa, one that seemed like a pipe dream and a mission impossible, this “solution for Africa by Africa will help cut down pollution and provide affordable last mile green transport for Rwandans.”

To adapt the bikes to the unique topography of Rwanda as the “land of a thousand hills”, there is an option of electric bicycles. The e-bikes are charged using solar power panels installed at docking stations, and have a range of up 70km on a single charge.

Guraride users, Kigali, Rwanda. Image: Guraride

Kigali City’s partnership with Guraride aligns with the ongoing pursuit of technology solutions for transport problems. In 2020, to celebrate five years of implementing the Kigali Urban Master Plan, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (KURA) and other partners, including the Digital Transformation Center Kigali and IMPACT HUB Kigali, organized the Technify Mobility Challenge #TechnifyMobility2020, to attract design innovations in four main areas: intelligent public transport, enhancing commuter’s experience, new mobility (on demand and shared mobility), and first mile distribution of goods.

While bike-sharing systems have been implemented in various cities, mostly in Europe, since the 1960s, Rwanda, which has progressively positioned itself to attract technology investments, is the first African country to adopt public bike-share systems. Case studies from the Netherlands, which was the first country to introduce bike-sharing systems in the 1960s, the Copenhagen City Bikes of the 1980s, and Rennes Vélo a la Carte Bikeshare of 1998, demonstrated that when dock stations are built near bus interchanges, bike-share systems can smartly integrate with other modes of transport and provide a transformative last mile solution.

The biggest drawback, however, remains theft and vandalism. In recent times, the extremes of this phenomenon have collapsed bike-sharing programs in new markets. In September 2018, MoBike, suspended operations in Manchester and withdrew over 2000 bikes as a result of  persistent cases of stolen and/or vandalized bikes. The bikes were either flung into canals or up the lamp posts, spray painted, or damaged. In Dallas, Texas Monthly, reported how five bike-share companies (VBike, Spin, LimeBike and Beijing-based companies Ofo and Mobike) transformed Dallas into “the bike-share capital of America” boasting over 18,000 bikes, and lost nearly all of them overnight.

In China, municipal government subsidies to encourage non-motorized low-cost mobility options, created an explosion of over 70-bike sharing companies operating 23 million bicycles, serving 400 million users. Rapid growth outpaced demand and flooded city streets with millions of rental bicycles. Images of huge bike graveyards give a glimpse of waste on an enormous scale. In response, over 30 Chinese cities instituted regulations governing bike-sharing maintenance, operation and production, and frameworks for removing damaged bikes from the fleet.

“A worker rides a shared bicycle past a huge pile of unused shared bikes in a vacant lot in Xiamen, Fujian province, China, on December 13, 2017.” Image: The Atlantic.

“Because of overcapacity at launch, over 10,000 bike-share service bicycles were abandoned at a bicycle graveyard on January 13, 2018, in Xiamen, Fujian, China.” Image: The Atlantic.

A drone’s-eye-view of tens of thousands of unused share bikes lined up in a field near Shanghai. Image: The Atlantic.

Can other African cities, such as Nairobi, Lagos or Johannesburg implement micro-mobility as a solution to tackle increasing air pollution in large urban areas, traffic jams and congestion, long queues at bus stations, overburdened road infrastructure, and the high cost of transport?

Doing so demands tackling the three main concerns bedeviling bike-share programs: theft, vandalism, and weak or non-existent regulatory framework. As e-bikes and scooters gain popularity, alongside traditional pedal bikes, to advance micro-mobility objectives, cities in Africa intent on following Kigali’s Guraride model must guarantee high levels of security, invest in developing dedicated lanes for bicycle users, and put in place strong regulations to control the operations of bike-share startups, design and location of docking stations, and disposal of damaged bikes.

African cities should also see the promotion of micro-mobility solutions as a catalyst for competitive domestic manufacturing. Currently, Sub-Saharan Africa imports only 1.5% – 2% of bicycles manufactured annually. While the region consumes a small percentage of bicycles, in terms of global trade, local manufacturing capacity is abysmally low. Trade data from 2000 to 2018 show that the region exported only 0.1% to 0.15% in bicycle trade. It is sad that a region with a population of 1.14 billion people lacks the capacity to manufacture bicycles. Beyond the PR exercises around “sustainability”, “smart cities”, “micro-mobility solutions”, African countries can only enjoy the full benefits of the ride-sharing boom by radically transforming the industrial chain to attract investments in large-scale local production.

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