Shared e-bikes make for speedy inter-campus commute

FEBRUARY 18, 2016

Students and staff at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University can cut out the long walk between the university’s North and South campuses, by hopping onto a solar-charged e-bike.

Ten e-bikes, all part of a shared fleet, have just been launched as part of this unique green transport pilot project.

“This project is a first for a South African university,” said NMMU Infrastructure Projects Director Greg Ducie.

The shared e-bikes can be collected and dropped off at custom-designed docking stations on the two campuses – the engineering and innovation of South Africa’s pioneering uYilo eMobility Programme, based at NMMU, in collaboration with merSETA and NMMU Infrastructure Projects.

“Each station has rooftop solar panels that provide the green energy needed to power this green transport solution,” said uYilo Deputy Director Hiten Parmar.

The swipe of a student or staff access card will be all that is required to check them out of their stations, although those wanting to use them will have to complete a once-off online registration and collect keys and a helmet from nearby security points. Each bike, which weighs about 35kg and can reach a top speed of 25km/h, has an on-board tracking unit for data capturing.

uYilo will be monitoring usage to test the effectiveness of the pilot, which will run until December  2016.

“Society needs to embrace the concept of shared mobility as a service to get from Point A to Point B rather than the ‘ownership’ way of thinking. The e-bikes are a great way to showcase the fleet sharing system,” said Parmar.

Parmar said the project also provided “exciting opportunities for further research on a real life application and working model”.

“Engineering, Chemistry, ICT and Computer Science departments will all have the opportunity for research involvement, towards improving the base platform to include technologies such as wireless charging, web and mobile reservation and monitoring systems, improved battery chemistry composition, and so on.”

Car sharing, a step-up from bike sharing, is a vision towards which uYilo is working. It is happening in major cities like London, Paris and Oslo – and was last year introduced to South Africa by Locomute.  In addition to harvesting renewable energy for green mobility, mobility-sharing reduces the number of cars on the road which has an improved effect on the quality of our air, said Parmar.

The e-bike project has been jointly funded by NMMU, uYilo and the Advanced Mechatronics Technology Centre (which houses NMMU’s merSETA chair in Engineering Development).

“We will monitor the success of the pilot, before we will look at expanding such projects nationally,” said Parmar.

uYilo was set up in Nelson Mandela Bay, the heart of South Africa’s automotive industry, by the government’s Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) in 2013.

Image: ELECTRIC WHEELS … Hiten Parmar (left), Deputy Director of the national uYilo eMobility Programme, based at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, gives mechatronics student intern Unathi Mabi a demonstration on how to use the new shared fleet of solar-charged electric bikes at NMMU.