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Fuel shortage, a wake up call for planners

The time spent waiting for fuel translated to thousands of lost man-hours. [File, Satndard]

The recent fuel shortage ought to have served as a learning point and wake-up call for economic and infrastructure planners in government given the inconveniences workers had to endure either because they could not get to work or had to spend long hours waiting to buy fuel.

The time spent waiting for fuel translated to thousands of lost man-hours, occasioning a prolonged downtime in economic production given the idle manpower capacity that was unutilised in those three weeks of shortages. Yet, if one had looked and listened carefully over the last two years or so, one would have picked up the dim signal sent out by technology and logistics start-ups that have been introducing electric bicycles and motorcycles in the Kenyan market at worker-friendly prices for both purchasing and leasing.

One such company, eBee, has bicycles that can reach speeds of up to 45kph, making them ideal for beating traffic in urban settings. In terms of carbon footprints, such bikes would be ideal for cementing, say, Nairobi's credentials as a green city.

However, because there is no town or city that has infrastructure dedicated for use by bicycle riders, such innovations fail to reach tipping point solely because the workers who would want to use such bicycles consider them unsafe. As a result, the uptake of technologically enhanced bicycles remains low and the trend is likely to persist even as we make progress in embracing other forms of urban technologies.

For far too long, cases of bicycle and motorcycle riders being killed or injured in road crashes have become all too common to the point of numbing the public to the disaster of pandemic proportion that has arisen from them yet many Kenyan hospitals now have wards dedicated specifically for trauma patients nursing crash injuries.

It is unfortunate that two-wheelers account for the largest proportion of road crash fatalities and injuries in practically all urban settings. Nairobi, not-surprisingly, remains the most unsafe environment for two-wheeler riders. In February alone 60 people died in road crashes, majority of them on two-wheelers. Nationally, between January and November last year, 1,508 motorcyclists died on Kenya roads and the trends for this year indicate the numbers will be worse.

True, there is a huge problem with riders. They do not obey traffic rules and regulations and many of them ride motorcycles without first going for lessons as required by law. However, we can also not ignore the fact that road design contributes to crashes involving two-wheelers because they have to compete for the same space on roads with four-wheelers.

What has been happening over the years is that we have been compiling statistics of crashes - and expecting the numbers to go down miraculously - without putting in place policy interventions that can reverse the trend in the medium and long term. One such intervention is requiring all road builders to have dedicated lanes for two-wheelers. And they should be designed in a way that matatus will be discouraged from turning them into their own lanes.

The second intervention is to ensure that every rider can be identified as an individual and his or her level of competence established. This is particularly critical for those who operate as public service vehicles.

The writer is an Editor with The Standard