Electric motorbikes flood Havana amid lack of diesel engines

HAVANA – Young people come and go on their electric motorbikes at the highway outside Cuba’s capital, where they perform stunts and talk about their two-wheelers, where there would be silence without music is coming from the speaker.

Cuba has in recent years been flooded with “motorinas,” as the island’s electric motorcycles are called, which the government touts as an effective alternative amid gas and diesel shortages. extremely serious, and at the same time the solution to the country’s traffic problems.

Colonel Mario Ríos Labrada, head of the vehicle registry at the National Transportation Bureau, said authorities allowed the import of motorcycles a decade ago – Cubans cannot import motorcycles with engines. petrol or diesel – since then about 300,000 of them have circulated on the island. Meanwhile, there are an estimated 500,000 cars.

The motorcycles can cost between $2,000 and $5,000. Many are of Chinese origin and are imported to Cuba via Panama. Cuban officials say a domestically produced electric motorcycle called the “Minerva” is being manufactured at an old bicycle factory in Villa Clara.

Ernesto José Salazar, 20, who works in a paint shop, said: “There is an explosion of electric scooters, everyone loves them. “We had to meet 200 motorbikes, honking and listening to music.”

Young riders organize through social media and spend hours discussing battery benefits or where to buy tires or find the best workshop.

Alejandro Vasallo, 23, said: “Fuel is a lost cause, you have to look for it and line up, right now having an electric motorcycle here is a life of its own,” said Alejandro Vasallo, 23 years old.

Cuban drivers face shortages of fuel, especially diesel, which is also used to power generators supplying the national grid, which collapsed in the summer of last year. now. The oil shortage is caused by difficulties in Venezuela – the island’s ally and supplier – and US sanctions.

The electric scooter driver recharges the battery through a normal electrical outlet and is unlucky when the power supply fails.

Authorities in Cuba advertise electric scooters that save energy and are an alternative to a public transport system that is running out of spare parts to repair broken and fuel-starved buses.

“Electricity will always be cheaper than diesel fuel and gasoline, and in addition, electric motors are much more efficient than combustion engines, you can save up to 70% on fuel costs,” said Ramsés Montes Calzadilla, chief strategy officer. of the Department of Energy and Mines, said in an interview with news website Cubadebate.

Electric scooters are changing the urban landscape in Cuba and also creating challenges: batteries have a tendency to catch fire and their relative silence coupled with the inexperience of drivers is causing traffic accidents. pine.

The latest figures from the Fire Department show that in the first half of 2020, there were 263 motorcycle fires using gel or lithium batteries, a significant increase from 208 in the whole of 2019.

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