SGR and Nairobi Expressway have helped to reduce carbon emissions on our roads

The SGR Railway above the two-lane Nairobi -Mombasa road. [File, Standard]

The sustainability and security of East Africa’s transport industry came under sharp focus at the second edition of the Africa Mashariki Transport Awards, and Expo held at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre from October 11 to 13, 2023, under the theme, ‘Driving Towards a Sustainable and Secure Future: Green Energy and Safety in Transport’.

Green energy refers to the push for increased use of renewable, non-fossil forms of energy in transportation to minimise the possible adverse effects of the industry on the environment, specifically the emission of carbon dioxide into the environment, in line with the global target of net zero emissions by the year 2050.

The call for increased use of green energy in transport could not have come at a more appropriate time, coming after the Africa Climate Summit, which was held last month in Nairobi, when African countries committed to a number of actions to reduce their carbon footprints.

Transport, through the use of fossil fuels such as petrol, diesel and coal, is known to be a major emitter of carbon into the atmosphere and, thus, a key contributor to global warming. Safety, on the other hand, refers to the activities that should be done to ensure goods or services, while being transported, and even the vehicle being used, reach their destinations in the same state in which they started the journey.

While this may be a non-issue in some developed world jurisdictions, it is a major issue of policy and operational concern in the region, specifically in Kenya’s road transport sector. What has been and is being done by both the public and private actors to improve the uptake of green energy and improve the safety of the transport industry in Kenya? The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) recently marked 2,350 days of safe railway operations since June 1, 2017, for both passenger and freight transport.

The SGR operations have hauled over 27 million tonnes of cargo since inception in 2018 and in double-stacked containers and that translates to reduced traffic on our main road transport artery from Mombasa. 

By improving traffic flow and doing away with stop-go traffic, the Nairobi Expressway has greatly helped motorists reduce fuel use, hence materially reducing carbon emissions and improving sustainability.

A recent study highlighted that if a motorist makes 10,000 trips using the Electronic Toll Collection option, with its non-stop, cashless access, they save about 314 litres of fuel and reduce about 670 kilogrammes of carbon from the environment. The road also has a number of sustainability features in its design and use, including the deployment of energy-efficient lighting, the use of Intelligent Transport Systems in traffic management, tree planting in its corridor and the incorporation of public transport options, such as electric buses.

On the green energy front, investors have already put their money into the assembling of electric motor vehicles in Kenya, with Autopax Air Yetu already blazing the trail with its plant in Thika. This kind of investment is an attempt to address the supply side of things, a critical prerequisite in promoting the use of electric vehicles in Kenya and the region.

On its part, the government has come up with guidelines to govern the operation of companies running charging stations for electric vehicles. The demand for this service is likely to grow as more electric vehicles continue to ply Kenyan roads, as is already evident in Nairobi, with electric taxis and even public service vehicles already a common feature.

Despite concerted public education and awareness creation over the years, statistics show that material behaviour change when it comes to the use of Kenyan roads, is yet to be achieved. A recent policy directive to retest drivers of heavy commercial and public service vehicles was vehemently opposed and had to be shelved, but this policy may have to be revisited.

The writer is a Project Management Specialist.