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Bicycles

Micro Stores In South African Townships: Decentralization Can Promote Micromobility

This decentralization will create an environment that is perfect for micromobility. Electric bicycles, scooters, and small neighborhood electric vehicles can find a ready market in such an environment.

Mr Price, one of South Africa’s leading fashion retailers, is testing smaller format stores in a bid to get closer to where a lot of its shoppers live. This will allow shoppers to enjoy more options for shopping closer to home and also for staff manning those shops to work near their homes. Since the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders and hard lockdowns began around the world, consumers have been avoiding large shopping malls and limiting their times in crowded places such as mass transit public transport. This has perhaps informed the decision for some retailers to open micro stores in townships where the majority of residents in South African cities live, hoping this trend will continue long after the pandemic.

Images courtesy of GURARIDE

The South African township retail market is growing rapidly and this could see more big retailers increasing their footprint in the townships. In African cities, townships were usually built on the periphery of cities, resulting in long commutes to work and to major shopping centers for the majority of people. The public transport sector is quite informal in many large cities and is driven mostly by small 11- to 16-seat minibus taxis. A lot of people have to take several minibus taxis each way when they commute, increasing the cost of transport, which is a major component of the monthly budget for low income earners. Bringing more micro stores and decentralizing services will reduce the need for many to commute long distances for work and shopping.

South Africa is a vast country with large cities. Before the hard lockdown, a survey suggested  people used their cars 22 days per month and the average distance they traveled was around 1,647 kilometers per month. During lockdown, this went down drastically to just 11 days and just 501 kilometers. This slowdown during lockdown obviously lead to a sharp decline in congestion on the main roads and shows what could be possible with fewer cars on the roads. These numbers obviously rose again after lockdowns were relaxed, but a lot of people still opt to or are able to work from home.

This decentralization, which allows people to work and shop closer to home, if expanded and replicated across the country, will create an environment that is perfect for micromobility. Electric bicycles, scooters, and small neighborhood electric vehicles can find a ready market in such an environment. The benefits of cycling and switching to electric vehicles have been well documented. This shift to micromobility will also help create employment opportunities in bikeshare/rental or similar programs. City officials will also have to play their part in promoting cycling by improving local infrastructure to accommodate more cyclists in bike lanes and also make the areas more pedestrian friendly for those who will now be in a position to walk to work or to a nearby shopping center.

 
 
 
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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.

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