Electric motorcycles flood Havana amid diesel shortages

HAVANA (AP) — Young people ride their electric motorcycles back and forth on this highway outside the Cuban capital where they perform stunts and talk about their two-wheelers, which would be largely silent if not there was no music from the speakers.

Cuba has been inundated in recent years with “motorinas”, as electric scooters are called on the island, which have been promoted by the government as efficient alternatives amid extreme gasoline and diesel shortages, and as a solution the country’s transport problems.

Authorities allowed them to be imported for the past decade – Cubans cannot import gasoline or diesel-powered motorcycles – and since then around 300,000 have driven on the island, the colonel said. Mario Ríos Labrada, responsible for the vehicle registry at the National Transit Directorate. By comparison, there are around 500,000 cars.

Motorcycles can cost between $2,000 and $5,000. Many originate from China and are imported to Cuba via Panama. Cuban officials say a locally made electric motorcycle called “Minerva” is being produced at a former bicycle manufacturing warehouse in Villa Clara.

“There is an ‘epidemic’ of electric motorcycles, everyone loves them,” said Ernesto José Salazar, 20, who works in a paint shop. “We encountered 200 motorbikes, honking and listening to music.”

Young cyclists organize themselves via social networks and spend hours discussing the advantages of a battery, where to buy tires or find the best workshop.

“Fuel is a lost cause, you have to look for it and wait in line, right now having an electric motorbike here is life itself,” said Alejandro Vasallo, 23.

Cuban drivers are facing shortages of fuel, especially diesel, which is also used to power electricity generators that feed the country’s power grid, which collapsed this summer. The oil shortages were caused by difficulties in Venezuela – an ally and supplier to the island – and US sanctions.

E-scooter riders charge the batteries through normal power outlets and are out of luck when the power fails.

Cuban authorities are promoting electric motorcycles as energy-efficient and an alternative to a public transportation system plagued by shortages of parts to fix broken down buses and a lack of fuel.

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

Electric motorcycles change the urban landscape in Cuba and also create challenges: the batteries tend to catch fire and their relative silence accompanied by the inexperience of the driver causes traffic accidents.

The latest figures available from the fire department indicate that in the first half of 2020 there were 263 motorcycle fires with gel or lithium batteries, a notable increase from 208 for the whole of 2019.