Bikes for the World

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Perfect Record

BfW shipment to Wheels of Africa, Kenya
Each country we ship to has a different set of rules and regulations. And the cost of shipping varies from one location to the next. A country such as Panama might only cost a few thousand dollars to ship a container of bikes while Uganda will cost three times that.

One of the reasons we choose our international partners carefully is to ensure our shipments arrive safely. One of our main criteria is that they have a proven track record of getting shipments successfully into the country. A hang up could be the port authority or government, and that could create insurmountable issues clearing customs.

Shipments going into Kenya and Uganda both pass through the Kenyan port of Mombasa. You can see from the map to the left that Uganda is still very much inland from this port. A container of bikes from the Port of Baltimore to Mombasa may cost $5,000 US. However, to move those bikes from the Kenyan port to Uganda by truck will cost another $4,000.

If the government were to impose an import duty on these donated shipments, those costs could soar upwards of $15,000, for a container of 500 used bikes! This could impact our relationship with Uganda. And this is where we are now.
Courtesy Prisoners Support Organisation

In fact, our latest shipment to Uganda suffered an even worse scenario. This was our 27th shipment to the Prisoner's Support Organisation (PSO) in Uganda. When it arrived at the port of Mombasa, it was pulled aside by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). Up until recently, we had no major issues clearing the port and moving inland, via truck, to the Ugandan capital of Kampala. This time, however, the PSO's shipping agent was told that the KRA had determined that our shipment was mischaracterized on the bill of lading-the critical shipping document-and that we would be fined, held responsible for the costs of unloading and verifying contents, and charged for storage. The alleged issue was that the KRA considered the bikes to be 'assembled', and not 'semi-disassembled', as we have consistently stated on our shipping documents.

May shipment of BfW bikes in Ghana
Upon learning of the problem from our local partner, PSO, we responded that the KRA position was in error, that our bikes-with their pedals removed, their handlebars turned and rotated, seats down, and sometimes with wheels removed-were indeed 'semi-disassembled' as stated on the bill of lading, and that neither we nor the consignee were responsible for any costs incurred. "Try and ride one of our compacted bikes!" If they were not ride-able, they were surely not assembled.

BfW shipment of bikes arriving in Colombia
A few weeks later, we received the gratifying news that the KRA-which has inserted itself into a matter we considered best left to Ugandan authorities-had dropped the fine and associated charges, and the container had already proceeded on to Uganda.

After 150 shipments, going back to 2005, we have never yet 'lost' a container (and its contents) to abandonment and confiscation.

In large part, this is due to the commitment and competence of our receiving partners, who research import requirements, hire a freight agent, and move quickly to clear the container from port before storage costs begin to mount up. Another reason is that Bikes for the World commonly requires that its receiving partners pay a portion of direct costs ahead of time, making them 'invested' in the shipment and motivating follow up.
May BfW shipment to Village Bicycle Project, Ghana

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