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Electric Vehicles and the quest for smarter urban mobility strategies: Cases from Milton Keynes, UK and Kampala, Uganda

Dr Charles Mbalyohere is a Senior Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy and a Lecturer in Strategic Management at The Open University's Faculty of Business and Law. This text is based on the Electric Vehicles and the quest for smarter urban mobility strategies: Cases from Milton Keynes, UK and Kampala, Uganda webinar, held on Thursday 17 June 2021.


After a rather lacklustre embrace of electric vehicles (EV) in the early years of the technology, a phenomenal acceptance by motorists has since emerged. A webinar hosted by The Open University Business School examined first-hand experiences from Milton Keynes, UK and Kampala, Uganda, as part of an effort to capture the dynamics of transition at different points on the life cycle of the young industry. Projections of global growth in the EV market are now some of the most positive in the whole transport industry. Rising environmental concerns, favourable government policies, and attractiveness for investors are behind this positive development, among other factors.

Urban authorities are playing a particularly strong role in making the case for electric vehicles as a key element of more sustainable, innovative and smarter urban mobility strategies. Experiences by metropoles in various geographies have unsurprisingly converged in various respects, but also diverged in many others. One thing has however increasingly stood out universally – a growing sense of urgency to accelerate progress.

E-Mobility in Kampala, Uganda

In the first presentation at the event, the founding CEO of the pioneer Electric Vehicle maker on the African Continent (Kampala-based Kiira Motors Corporation, KMC) – Paul Musasizi, took the participants on a Safari about the mass mobility experiences of a typical African city and the EV-based prospects for change. He began by summarising the six most important challenges of mobility in the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area of Uganda. These challenges are road and traffic congestion, climate change pressures, inadequate transport infrastructure, unsafe modes of transport, low fuel efficiency and high carbon-based transport emissions. He then proceeded to present the following six system quality attributes of a new transport model that has been designed for one of Africa’s fastest-growing cities: 

  • Economic efficiency
  • Sustainability
  • Mobility
  • Environmental friendliness
  • Accessibility
  • Safety.

Further comments revolved around the features of the Kayola bus, which is the main EV innovation KMC is leveraging to make a difference for Kampala and eventually for other Sub Saharan African cities. Fundamentally important for the whole strategy is a conscious effort to tap into local natural resources and to cumulatively grow capabilities that are key for success. Finally, Paul threw some light on one of KMC’s strategic partnerships through which the various ingredients of an operating core structure are being integrated in order to ensure efficiency and effectiveness along the whole value chain of the mass e-transit system.

Electric Vehicle Use & Development in Milton Keynes

The second presentation was by the Head of Transport Innovation in the Milton Keynes Council – Brian Matthews, who explained core strategies being pursued to develop smart, shared, sustainable mobility for a growing smart city. At the heart of the strategies is the goal of developing the city with the highest uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles globally. The strategies translate into 18 work packages located under the overarching areas of:

  • Infrastructure
  • Vehicle capabilities
  • Costs
  • Information
  • Future solutions
  • Leadership

Also noteworthy is an electric vehicle experience centre designed to offer independent advice and information, to interact with users, to understand barriers hindering more uptake, to develop growth strategies and to work with industry partners to explore new investment opportunities. Brian also outlined the status of development of a ground-breaking city-wide charging infrastructure that is critical to increased uptake of EVs. The infrastructure consists of four key locations:

  • Workplaces – for fleet use
  • Public/destination parking areas
  • On street - home charging
  • Community hubs. 

Brian was interested to learn that Kampala has plans to develop a fully-electric bus fleet by 2030 and he noted that there are active strategies to this end in Milton Keynes too. He ended his presentation with some suggestions for future solutions based on two areas: energy management and use affordability and wireless charging opportunities for all. 

Leapfrogging in new frontiers using electric vehicles

In the third and final presentation of the day, Dr Charles Mbalyohere drew on his current academic research to examine the implications of the transition to electric vehicles for improved energy access in new frontiers. He first reminded the participants of the challenge of low access to electricity in Sub Saharan Africa (average rate of 48%), with the situation being far worse in rural areas (19% access on average). He then proceeded to propose four ways in which the transition to electric vehicles would contribute to addressing the challenge: 

  • Repurposing end-of-life lithium ion batteries for scalable energy storage (urban and rural usage)
  • Integrating battery-based energy storage systems into Renewable Energy Resource Centres – RERCs, to support community electricity access)
  • Driving the integration of hydro-, solar power and other renewable sources to ensure resilience of supply to storage systems
  • Compensating for outages in national grids using smart charging technologies (e.g., Vehicle-to-Grid, V2G; Vehicle-to-Household, V2H)
His further comments were on four strategies for managing the EV transition in Sub Saharan Africa as follows: 
  • Formulating appropriate policies (supporting the nascent sector, political will, stakeholdership)
  • Rethinking the 2nd hand car import model (Currently 40% global market share by African countries)
  • Developing innovative products, services and business models that are locally initiated and driven 
  • Finetuning an integrated EV-based mass mobility and electricity access strategy

Charles then presented a graphic illustration of projections for global EV sales in the two decades ahead as below:


A graph showing a projected 60 million Electric vehicles are expected to be sold worldwide by 2040



The event demonstrated the potential benefits of collaboration between cities in various countries by sharing experiences and knowledge and developing synergies in their activities. All this would contribute to fast tracking the global EV transition and consolidating an increasingly important circular economy. It was also evident in the presentations that electric mobility and 2nd life battery energy storage constitute one of the next big things in energy transition developments, not least in new frontiers that need to leapfrog in the pursuit of progress. 

You can watch the recording of this webinar here.

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