Bike racks and electric vehicles: Can Egypt cut down its skyrocketing pollution rates?

The neighbourhoods of Cairo’s Heliopolis and Downtown have been seeing the emergence of bike racks in the streets (Photo courtesy of Sekketak Khadra)

In emerging economies, the demand for transport fuels is increasing due to the growth in car-ownership rates.

According to a report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2012, this demand has accordingly led to the exacerbation of CO2 emissions, which account for almost 25 percent of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions.

Transport sectors have “barely begun” merging with the electricity sector, according to REN21 Renewables 2018 Global Status Report.

In May, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Egypt as the second most polluted city, according to a report that had studied air pollution from 2011 to 2015. The insufficiency of trees across Egypt led to about 40,000 deaths due to pollution, according to a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2017. Additionally, about 3,000 new vehicles are introduced to the street every week.

In parallel, the neighbourhoods of Cairo’s Heliopolis and Downtown have been seeing the emergence of bike racks in the streets.

Business Forward sits down with environmental activist Ahmed El-Dorghamy to learn more about the new initiative of installing bike racks in a bid to reduce Egypt’s air pollution and the future of electric vehicles (EVs) in the country.

Bike racks and more
In front of the Merryland park in Cairo Heliopolis neighbourhood, several boys gathered beside a number of bike racks to play sports. The Cairo governorate collaborated with civil society organization Green Arm to introduce the bike racks to the streets.

As a member of Green Arm, El-Dorghamy says that about 100 bike racks were installed in Cairo governorate in the neighbourhoods of Heliopolis and Downtown as part of the project Sekettak Khadra.

In collaboration with the Cairo governorate, Green Arm installed the racks following the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that also included the Embassy of Denmark and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

In front of the Merryland park, several boys gathered beside a number of bike racks to play sports

“We couldn’t have had an actual physical intervention without having the governorate on board,”  El-Dorghamy says.

He says that the government was more than supportive; however, resources are very limited. Greater Cairo has about 20 million residents, equivalent to the entire nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania altogether.

The project is not only limited to bike racks; it also includes social awareness activities, including exercises that do not need special equipment. The space around the bike racks is also used for seating elements, and the activities expand to improving access to people with disabilities and removing obstacles such as big advertisement banners.

Recently, Cairo has witnessed a significant propagation of bike-sharing systems – even new bike lanes can be found in Sheikh Zayed and Maadi.

On future plans, El-Dorghamy says that a conference is set to be held in October to gather all the stakeholders and discuss all the actions needed to be implemented in Egypt.

Egypt and EVs
On incorporating renewable energy in the transport sector, El-Dorghamy says that any small incentive can substantially help the pervasion of EVs in Egypt’s transport sector. For instance, it could start with the removal of custom duties or the value-added tax (VAT) on EVs.

“Egypt has a very good potential when it comes to EVs and considering the local production of EVs could be very good,” he points out, adding that if no relevant change took place, the pollution rates may further exacerbate in Cairo. With the large amount of new vehicles being introduced to the streets every week, this will not only lead to the loss of public spaces but also to a pollution disaster.

“The air quality will continue to get worse; in other countries, people have to wear masks because of the [immense] pollution rates,” El-Dorghamy emphasizes.

Any small incentive can substantially help the pervasion of EVs in Egypt’s transport sector

The Center for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe (CEDAR), where El-Dorghamy works as an energy and environment consultant, is supporting the government to help plan the introduction of EVs into Egyptian streets.

“It’s not only about producing or importing EVs; there are several other specifications. For instance, you need to know how to recycle the batteries after they expire in advance,” he adds.

There should also be plans for the infrastructure and there needs to be a roadmap for introducing EVs. CEDAR is working on that because the transportation sector in Egypt produces about a third of the air pollution, according to El-Dorghamy.

Meanwhile, Egypt is not ready yet for the introduction of EVs because the infrastructure is not ready. There are some charging stations that are installed by the private sector but it is not planned on a national level and so, it is still very experimental, he continues.

He goes on to say that cars are a problem, but microbuses and buses are even a bigger problem because their vehicles use diesel fuel to operate and the quality of diesel in Egypt is one of the worst in the world due to its high sulphur content.

The governorate of Alexandria is currently in the phase of procuring 15 electric buses as a pilot. In Cairo, the introduction of electric buses is still very expensive but there are producers who have already started to manufacture small electric microbuses. However, this is still in the pipeline.

“We can have something similar to a geo-fenced zone for low emissions in Egypt, similar to Taj Mahal in India where cars and other vehicles with high emissions are not allowed within a certain range of the area,” El-Dorghamy concludes.

 

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