Kampala banks on technology intervention from ASToN project to pave way for improved mobility

Traffic congestion in Kampala

This article is a collaboration between the Journalism and Media Lab (Jamlab), ASToN and Civic Tech Innovation Network (CTIN).

For the last two years, Daniel Luboyera has earned a living as a cab driver in Uganda’s capital Kampala. However, not a day goes by in which the 34-year-old does not dread the challenges that come with navigating what he describes as Kampala’s “narrow and potholed” roads.

For the last two years, Daniel Luboyera has earned a living as a cab driver in Uganda’s capital Kampala. However, not a day goes by in which the 34-year-old does not dread the challenges that come with navigating what he describes as Kampala’s “narrow and potholed” roads.

“Whenever I am leaving home, my biggest fear is how much fuel and time I will waste on the road during traffic hold-ups. With fuel, if a journey should ordinarily take Shs20,000 (about $6), when there is a traffic jam, I must add Shs10,000 (about $3). Secondly, there is a lot of time wastage on the road. If you are supposed to make 12–13 trips daily, due to traffic jams you lose 4–5 trips,” he said.

With a population of nearly 3.3 million, Kampala is the East Africa Community’s third largest city after Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Nairobi (Kenya). Yet, because only 30%t of the city’s 2,110-kilometre road network is paved in a metropolis where 90% of the transportation is done by road, a lot of time and money is lost to traffic congestion.

“The average speed of vehicles in the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area is 25.9 km/hr [kilometres per hour],” says a 2021 bulletin by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). “It is estimated that over 24,000 man-hours are lost in traffic jams each year. The vehicle hours each year are estimated at 26,000 hours. The lost time and time vehicles spend on the road give an indication of the monetary loss and pollution attributed to the congestion.”

Kampala’s traffic congestion challenges have pre-occupied planners from KCCA, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, to the National Planning Authority (NPA), which oversees the implementation the country’s national development plans and overall vision.

The effort to reduce the impact of traffic congestion saw KCCA buy into the ASToN initiative, a flagship programme that brings together 11 African cities to collaborate on how to use digital tools to overcome local and global challenges.

ASToN, an enterprise financed by the French Development Agency (FDA), managed by the French National Urban Renovation Agency (ANRU), and inspired by knowledge and tools from a European exchange and learning programme (URBACT), allows each chosen city to select a theme or challenge to resolve.

According to Martin Ssekajja, the authority’s head of Information Technology, who is also the ASToN local coordinator in Kampala, KCCA chose to address its mobility challenges during the 32-month life cycle of this project, which started in October 2019.

“Our primary aspiration for Kampala to be part of ASToN was the shared vision of using digital tools to solve citizen challenges,” he said in an interview in late December 2021. “The confirmation of mobility as our key challenge was considered at phase one of the project.”

The project has three phases. In the first phase, which is ongoing, Ssekajja says they have been able to host a transnational meeting of city leaders and sign MoUs with them, carry out project planning and undertake a baseline study for Kampala and other cities.

Phase 2 of the project will involve the formulation of the project concept plan and adoption by the key administrative stakeholders, formulation of the Local Action Group in Kampala, and the documentation of the preliminary research of the problem to be solved and communication plan. Phase 3, on the other hand, will see KCCA document the experiment plan and vouch for its approval by the Secretariat.

Commenting on how the ASToN initiative is supporting KCCA’s efforts towards achieving its project goals, Ssekajja said, “ASToN has provided training tools, [and] methodologies to guide KCCA in implementing applicable mobility solutions.”

Beyond that, according to Ssekajja, ASToN is currently facilitating Kampala with the Experiment Phase of the project. However, even before that, ASToN had helped to create a framework for collaboration and knowledge sharing between Kampala and other African network cities, as well as support Kampala to conduct a baseline study about its Smart City agenda.

“ASToN has facilitated problem analysis and applied solutions through the formulation of a local action group comprising the city authority, private players, civil society and key stakeholders,” he added. “ASToN has [further] provided applicable benchmarking visits to Paris and other network partner cities like Kigali. It has also facilitated knowledge sharing with the city mobility cluster comprising Kampala, Lagos and Niamey.”

The implementation of the ASToN Project in Kampala started a year before KCCA embarked on implementing a new IT [Information Technology] strategy for 2020–2025, whose key goal is to transform Kampala into a smart city.

By the time the findings of the ASToN baseline study were published, KCCA had already created a traffic control centre covering 15 junctions, a revenue collection system that accepts payments via mobile money platforms, a private cloud for Kampala that hosts more than 60 KCCA applications, online systems that have incorporated Computer Aided Mass Valuation of about 350,000 properties and 11 channels for active engagement with locals.

Ssekajja mentioned that the navigation app detailing all fixed assets, house numbers and addresses in Kampala will ease the movement of locals seeking to go to specific places in the city, especially because KCCA has integrated the addresses on Google maps to facilitate e-commerce and mobility.

“In addition,” he noted, “the private sector through technology firms have developed several mobility apps such as Kommute Taxi, Spesho, Ka Cyber, Uber, Safe Boda, Ollie Taxi and many others to improve mobility.”

KCCA now hopes to ride on the different mobility interventions and innovations that public and private sector institutions have made to create a single platform called KlaKonnect, as the go-to facility for all the city’s mobility issues.

“ASToN will give birth to flagship mobility programme dubbed KlaKonnect that will guide Mobility Interventions in the city, technology inclusive,” explained Ssekajja. “The legacy will be methodologies learned to implement practical technologies for citizens.”

During an e-services exhibition by Uganda government agencies on December 3, 2021, Agnes Kahwa, a systems architect at KCCA, who also deputises Ssekajja as the ASToN local coordinator in Kampala, explained how KlaKonnect will help to ease traffic flow. She said, “KlaKonnect is a tool that will help citizens to report traffic-related incidents to the city administrators and also give updates to fellow travellers about anything traffic-related. With this, we want to make sure that citizens adopt the use of technology to solve day-to-day [traffic-related] problems [as they] embrace the smart city concept.”

Ssekajja says the Klakonnect programme includes policy interventions such as dig once, physical interventions such as connectivity, non-motorized transport, traffic signal management among others, while the technology interventions focus on incident management, citizen engagement, data analysis, information dissemination and integration with private players.

Asked whether the KlaKonnect platform will have a far-reaching impact in a city where motorcycle transporters (locally called boda-bodas) form a big part of the transportation network [more than 500,000 motorcycles operate in Kampala] and a considerable number of residents are not tech-savvy, Ssekajja said their plan is to ensure that no one is left behind.

“Kampala is 90% occupied by the youth and smartphone uptake is estimated at 75%,” he explained. “We plan to use very simple technologies for Kampala citizens as we have done in the past. We shall incorporate feature phones in our implementation and also use low-end functions like SMS [Short Message Service].”

The next six months will provide crucial insights on the viability of the ASToN initiative to drivers like Luboyera. And while the scope of the ASToN project’s technology implementation phase is limited to experimentation of the technology to be rolled out, Ssekajja is confident that it will provide crucial lessons for the city management agency in Kampala. He said, “The successful experiment will inform KCCA to invest in the technology and [its] rollout plan.”

By BENON HERBERT OLUKA

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ASToN Network

ASToN network brings 11 African cities together to develop digital practices in order to create sustainable & inclusive cities.