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By JOYCE MSUYA
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It’s 8am on Waiyaki Way, the sun silhouetting the distant towers of the central business district.

Rush hour is in full swing. The road is busy and the driving a little chaotic — this is Nairobi, after all.

But instead of the roar and sputter of engines, we hear birdsong as electric cars, matatus and boda-boda glide silently alongside modern buses in dedicated lanes.

Gone are the clouds of black exhaust fumes. Cyclists and pedestrians are enjoying the clean air along special walkways and cycleways.

Does this vision seem far-fetched? Well, it is not. And it is something we must strive towards because our modes of transport are seriously damaging our health.

The land transport sector creates a huge amount of outdoor air pollution, which kills 4.2 million people per year.

Diesel emissions cause almost half of all transport-related air pollution deaths. Those living closest to major traffic arteries are 12 per cent more likely to suffer from dementia. And this isn’t even close to the full list.

And it will get worse unless something changes. The global vehicle fleet is expected to swell by up to four times in the next few decades.

We have already seen growth far beyond these levels in Kenya. The roads can’t cope; our bodies can’t cope, and the economy is suffering.

As we marked the World Environment Day yesterday, we ought to have started exploring cleaner ways of getting around.

That may seem hard but Kenya has already led the way on environmental challenges such as single-use plastics. This is another chance to leapfrog to new technologies and demonstrate the way forward for Africa.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, electric public mobility is growing.

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The Chilean capital, Santiago, put 200 e-buses on the road this year as Chile eyes an all-electric public transport by 2040.

The Kenyan government recently allocated over Sh5 billion to complete the bus rapid transit (BRT) system, where modern buses will operate in special lanes in Nairobi.

Going by their positive impact on air pollution, electric BRT buses would have far greater benefits.

In April, London introduced the first ultra-low emission zone, with plans to expand it by 2021. Nairobi has looked at car-free days and banning matatus from the city centre.

Global sales of plug-in electric and hybrid cars hit 2.1 million last year, 64 per cent higher than 2017.

When Mauritius offered lower import taxes on used hybrid vehicles, it increased imports 50 times between 2010 and 2017.

We are seeing more electric vehicles on Kenyan roads, including through start-up firms such as Nopia Ride, though few.

Policies to lower the import taxes on clean vehicles — including electric boda-boda — could make them more competitive and attractive for their lower running costs.

Another option is to look at electric conversion kits, which are becoming more affordable. One company has even tested solar-powered safari vehicles in Kenya and is eyeing matatus.

Kenya has prioritised e-mobility as part of its Paris Agreement commitments. But to achieve truly sustainable transport, there needs to be a fundamental shift in investment patterns, based on efficient, clean and reliable public transit, and making cities more walkable and cyclable.

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