Ugandan study yields mixed results from motorcycle taxi electrification

Some air pollutants can be reduced by moving away from petrol-powered two-wheel journeys, while others may increase. 

A new study, conducted by the University of Michigan, set out to understand the impact on air pollutant emissions if the Ugandan capital of Kampala electrified motorcycle taxis. 

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A common mode of transport, particularly in low-middle income countries (LMICs) currently struggling to balance air quality and rapid urbanisation, no previous research had  focused specifically on the benefits of moving two-wheelers  away from fossil fuels in these regions.

The findings were published in the journal Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, and indicate that by using electric-powered bike taxis a range of global and local-level air pollutants were reduced. A number of sustainability benefits were also identified. 

However, the switch did not yield universally positive results. Using real-world data of actual trips taken in motorcycle taxis with charging data and modelling of the Ugandan power network, while many types of air pollutant were seen to drop, others increased due to the process of electricity generation. 

‘The transportation sector is a major emitter of global and local pollutants in LMICs, and motorcycles make up a large part of the transport sector in those countries,’ said Michael Craig, assistant professor in energy systems at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.

‘Electrification is a key decarbonisation strategy for transport, but little research has considered how electrifying motorcycles in LMICs would yield local or global sustainability benefits. To understand how we can achieve those benefits, we teamed up with Zembo (electric motorcycle taxi company) to fill that gap,’ he continued. 

The study focused on Kampala due to the sheer volume of motorcycles on the road, tens of thousands of which are used as ‘boda bodas’, or taxis. Pollution levels in the city frequently exceed safe limits set by the World Health Organisation. 

A number of other sub-Saharan African nations also face similar challenges, with the neighbouring Rwandan government even going so far as to consider completely banning motorcycles running on gasoline engines. 

In related news, the city of Oxford has announced plans to develop a comprehensive electric vehicle strategy. Elsewhere in the UK, Scotland has outlined a new vision for expanding its electric vehicle charging network. 

Image credit: Drew Willson


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2 years ago

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