Motorcycle drivers residing in the capital are compelled to digital licence issuance within a month as the Addis Abeba Traffic Management Agency (AATMA) began the procedure a fortnight ago.

The IDs are infused with distinct QR codes that retrieve data streamlining continuous tracking and security access control, allowing the agency to have surveillance of drivers into a single database.

According to Bahiru Birhanu, head of the communication directorate at the Agency, the project aims to reduce traffic accidents and illicit activities of drivers by digitising the system and integrating vehicle and driver data.

Motors will be identified by their plate numbers, models, accident histories, GPS devices, penalties and merit records while police officers are able to identify and track drivers by scanning their licenses using their smartphones.

“The devices will be connected to the main database," said Bahiru.

The Digital ID was deployed in 2022 by the Agency, run under Tizita Gebremedhin. Over 546 motor drivers have received the IDs through their own associations. Officials hope to reach all 5,000 motorcycle drivers under the association by the end of the month with a 1,000 Br penalty for the ones coming after that.

"Riding without the digital license will be forbidden," he said.

A report published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in September 2022 indicated that the rise in state surveillance should be complemented by the expansion of digital IDs and smart city projects.

Three years ago, the Agency made the instalment of GPS platforms mandatory on every motor vehicle to track motorcycle drivers' activities and over 14 companies began installing GPS devices. It allowed installers to access real-time information on vehicles' locations, routes, and speeds.

According to Bahiru, the tracking device proved ineffective when most drivers began pulling out and stashing the devices while others who installed them avoided turning them on. "We couldn't do a proper control," Bahiru said.

Over 10,000 motor vehicles are estimated to reside in the capital. The use of privately owned motorcycles was impeded from the residential areas to main roads, where passengers would then take taxis or buses but have steadily increased over the years. The current state entails that motorcycle services are now found on main roads, and even in the city centres.

There are five motorcycle associations in the capital, having an aggregate of 5,000 drivers under their fleet. Nifas Silk Lafto Motorcycle Owners Association has 250 motorcycle drivers of which 68 drivers have taken the licences.

Taris Hailu, president of the association believes that the new system will pave the way to legalize the use of motorcycles and have a better way of monitoring activities. However, he raised his concerns on the proper enforcement where many policies had proved ineffective.

"Proper execution is necessary for this to work in the long run," he said.

A growing urban population inadequately served by the transport system overlaps and conflicts among the agencies responsible for planning and implementing transport solutions. Massive growth in minibus services and dependence on private transport such as motorcycles have become common.

The roads of Addis Abeba have been congested due to the mismatch between parking spaces and vehicles obstructing the traffic flow. While offering a transport advantage in the form of easy manoeuvrability, the growth in motorcycle use has also led to an increase in road accidents and traffic management hurdles.

Tilahun Muleta, a motorcycle driver for two decades offering public transportation, earns close to 3,000 Br a day while spending 400 Br for fuel. He is hopeful that it would be possible to distinguish legal drivers through the digital ID as they have been targeted whenever illegal activities unfold in the capital.

Over 21 drivers were under custody for alleged theft in the past few weeks.

Markos Tadesse, head of the Addis Abeba Police Communication Directorate, said some have been driving without a helmet or a driving licence.

"The accidents are fatal," he told Fortune. He believes the Digital ID will make drivers more conscious while making the work of officers easier.

A total of 1918 traffic accidents occurred in the last six months in Addis Abeba, resulting in 211 deaths, and 945 fatal injuries which prompted the Road Safety & Insurance Fund Service to propose a new policy for injured people from traffic accidents to receive free medical care. The policy follows a previous compensation scheme that saw accident victims receive 2,000 Br, an amount that Deputy CEO Fetiya Dedgaba deemed inadequate given the current economic conditions.

The road network in Addis Abeba is deemed substandard with absent service lanes and minimal street lighting, sapping the transportation fleet's productivity and increasing maintenance costs.

A World Bank report states that the dysfunctional state of urban transport and fragmented and underfunded authorities have been unable to maintain existing services or plan for expansion.

Birhanu Zeleke, a lecturer at Kotebe Metropolitan University, observes that the Digital ID system will better control motorcycle activities than the GPS device as the latter requires the contingency of both parties. However, he questions the system's sustainability and efficiency if the country goes offline.

"We live in a country where the system fails perpetually," Birhanu told Fortune.

The expert recommends that the digital system has to be isolated from the political agenda and become a control centre to serve better. He believes that a feasible infrastructure has to be constructed from the ground up for the digital system to have a lasting capability.

"Better structural base is necessary", he said.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 22,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1199]

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