- Green Rising
- Why batteries won’t trump rails
Why batteries won’t trump rails
Growth in electric vehicles is promising to change public transportation, freeing African cities from smoke-belching buses. Honk-honk to celebrate!
But the battle for cleaner air won’t be won with battery-powered vehicles alone.
The crux: Congestion and pollution cannot be banished without also resorting to a much older technology: Rails.
The news: Recent investments in rail systems in African cities are having a profound impact.
Lagos metro offers dramatically reduced journey times.
More & more: After decades of minimal focus on rail infrastructure, investment is growing.
The Dakar electric BRT network is set to be in operation in the middle of this year.
Work on the $1.5 billion Ivory Coast Metro Project will also be completed in 2024.
Horses for courses: A variety of technologies are being used to fit different urban needs.
The mix of options include trams, metros, monorails and suburban networks.
The benefits: Urban rail reduces greenhouse gas emissions per passenger by up to 7 times compared to cars. It also impacts landscapes less than roads. However, it’s expensive.
An alternative: Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRTs) cost less, and while not as effective as rail they still outperform single vehicles.
BRTs run omnibuses on separate lanes of regular roads.
Diesel-powered BRT emissions are more than double those of a tram. Even a fully electric BRT has 17% higher lifetime emissions.
In countries with a carbon-intensive energy mix, a tram's carbon footprint over 30 years is still lower than that of a BRT system.
Why it matters: Air pollution is a major cause of death in Africa, and getting worse.
Private vehicle ownership climbed from under 50 per 1,000 people at the start of the century to over 200 per 1,000 by 2015.
The future: Transportation challenges will further intensify in the coming years.
By 2050, urban populations are expected to soar from 600 million to over 1.3 billion.
Transport contributes 25% to African energy-related emissions (2% below the global average).
Greatest need: Kinshasa is the largest African city not to have urban rail transport.
Among African cities lacking light-rail that also have terrible traffic, Nairobi ranks top.
The map: North and South Africa are the rail pioneers. Cairo has had a metro since 1987.
East Africa is lagging but Addis Ababa opened a light rail line in 2015.
In Central Africa, Douala and Yaoundé are developing tram networks.
Nigerian dichotomy: While the new Lagos rail line is groundbreaking, its dysfunctional $823-million counterpart in Abuja has been labelled 'Nigeria’s Train to Nowhere'.
Key lessons: Pay attention to best-in-class strategic planning and local urban dynamics.
Rail networks are highly complex. Reductions in congestion and pollution come at a price. But it’s worth paying.