“Commuting by bicycle is not only better for the environment, it is also good for your health, more enjoyable and stress-free,” said my rider who was rushing me back from a hotel in this quiet city in northern Tanzania’s Shy Town, officially known as Shinyanga.
Bicycles are the public means of transport that everyone here uses when running errands. There are schoolchildren on their way to school, women riding to the market, workers cycling to work.
Riding at the back, I enjoyed as the wind blew in my face and my exhilaration was obvious being my first time to be on a commuter bike.
In Dar, the commercial capital, you rarely see cyclists despite the notorious traffic gridlock. And if you happen to see a rider, it will be a foreigner on a mission to stay physically fit. In Shinyanga, however, it is a way of life.
Unlike me, Shinyangans are not paying for the service since they pedal themselves, meaning they own the bicycles.
I notice schoolchildren and women riding their bicycles comfortably and there is no age restriction about the riders.
Most of the women I see are in their 30s and some even older, balancing buckets and baskets on the racks either to or from farms and other work sites.
Cycling is underutilised not only in East Africa but the world over yet it offers an efficient and cheap way of commuting in urban areas.
Some Shinyangans said some people link cycling to poverty, yet it is a healthy habit. It costs less than a dollar for a ride around town, that is between $0.1 and $0.2 (Tsh100 and Tsh500).
In the absence of public buses or daladalas, the only public transport option is the bicycle. To avoid accidents, cycling is more convenient in rural areas that are not as congested such as Dar es Salaam.
The savings are significant since it demands low infrastructure upgrade, saves time wasted in traffic and does not occupy large parking space.
Tanzania introduced the Dar Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) and commuter trains in addition to daladala to ease public transport. The initiative saved almost two hours that people used to spend stuck in traffic jams.