Three million. It’s a big number, but it seems even bigger when we’re talking about three million motorcycles with unregulated emissions crammed together in a tight, hot, densely populated urban space. That’s the reality faced by regulators in Kigali, Rwanda, where the majority of that nation’s three million motorcycle taxi drivers live and work. But the people of Kigali may be breathing easier soon– literally!– thanks to a massive, nationwide shift away from traditional, petroleum-powered ICE motorcycles towards “e-mobility” and electric motorcycle taxis that hopes to see every one of those drivers move towards electrics in the coming years.
“This may be the world’s first truly mass-market electric vehicle that’s cheaper and better than its petrol counterpart,” says Josh Whale, the founder of electric motorcycle maker, Ampersand, who builds the electric motorcycle shown here. Whale calls Rwanda’s plan, “the biggest opportunity for kicking off a global mass-market electric vehicle revolution is not sedans for the middle classes of Europe or Japan, but inexpensive motorcycle taxis in Africa and other emerging markets.”
Ampersand’s e-bike is at the core of Rwanda’s efforts to electrify its motorcycle taxi fleet. And they compare favorably to the 125cc motorcycles they’ll be replacing, with early e-moto trials showing the bikes can go an average of 40 miles per charge at speeds of about 35 MPH. The bike’s electric motors gives the Ampersand better torque and passenger-carrying power than the ICE version, as well.
“We’ve been developing these vehicles for about four years now,” explains Whale. “(We’ve been) making them so that they’re better and cheaper than the petrol motorcycles that are available on the road in Rwanda, that’s been our goal all along.”
It seems like Whale has met that goal, too. The Ampersands are expected to cut net-total greenhouse gas emissions from motorcycle taxis by about 75%, and represent fully $900 in fuel savings per bike, per year. In a poverty-stricken nation like Rwanda, an additional $900 left over at the end of the year might double a taxi driver’s take-home income, enabling his family to enjoy a level of food, healthcare, and education that might only be a dream, today. Those benefits come on top of the more obvious benefits in general air quality, according to Eng. Coletha U Ruhamya, Director General of the Rwanda Environment Management Authority. “Rwanda welcomes Ampersand’s efforts to develop clean and low carbon motorcycles for our citizens,” she explains, adding that over 2200 Rwandan deaths per year can be attributed to the country’s heavy air pollution. “As electric motorcycles emit less CO2 than petrol motorcycles, they are the best solutions to air pollution currently affecting our environment.”
Better bikes, better health, and a better life for more than three million Rwandans? It seems like a switch to an electric motorcycle economy would do wonders for a number of third-world countries, to me– what about you? Check out some pictures of the Ampersand, below, and let us know what you think of Rwanda’s improving quality of life in the comments section at the bottom of the page.