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We must transition from boda bodas to buses

Boda bodas on Kampala streets

Boda bodas on Kampala streets

Tuesday, January 16, 2024 was the second day of the three-day East Africa Trade and Investment Forum at Kampala Serena hotel.

The conference was held on the sidelines of the 19th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at the newly-opened Speke Resort Convention Centre in Munyonyo. That Tuesday morning, as I was walking briskly up the hill along Nile avenue, on my way to Serena, from the Uganda Media Centre, on Clement Hill road, a boda boda rider came speeding out of nowhere, turning the corner at full speed.

Instead of looking straight ahead, he had his face turned to one side; so, he didn’t really see me crossing the road and narrowly avoided knocking me by a whisker! I have witnessed this kind of reckless riding several times. As I hurried up the hill to Serena, I wondered whether any boda boda rider operating in Kampala has ever read ‘The Highway Code’ handbook, published by the ministry of Works and Transport, which clearly states you must always slow down when turning at corners or junctions.

Quite frankly, one has to have eyes in the back of one’s head when one is crossing Kampala roads (or any road in Uganda for that matter) where boda bodas prevail. They are ‘untouchable’ a law unto themselves; they have free reign of the roads, flout traffic rules, ride the wrong way against traffic, ride on traffic islands, ride on pavements, park on pavements, park at street corners, set up stages anytime and anywhere, do not stop at pedestrian crossings, inconvenience pedestrians, carry two passengers, ignore the speed limit and endanger lives — as traffic police officers look on oblivious.

Some of them lack valid driving permits. Some of them ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Others have been hired as quick getaways by criminals, especially after house robberies.

Many do not keep left, preferring instead to squeeze in-between cars during traffic jam, in the middle of the road, where they sometimes end up scratching people’s cars. Weaving in and out of traffic, they have contributed to the country’s skyrocketing road accident rate. From the way these boda boda riders behave on our roads, it comes as no surprise, therefore, that boda bodas are the number-one cause of casualties.

Past attempts to ‘streamline’ the boda boda industry have failed to yield positive results, due to political interference. No one knows exactly how many boda bodas are operating in Kampala; they are estimated to be in the thousands! We cannot go on like this; we must transition from bodas to buses! Whether diesel or electric, we need buses!

Once upon a time, there used to be Uganda Transport Company (UTC) — but it is no more. When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) took power in 1986, with it came the proliferation of fourteen-seater taxis (matatus). Presently, Uganda’s mass public transportation system is privatised.

That is the irony; our public transportation system is privatised, privately-owned by businesspeople, which opens the door wide open for exploitation when passengers are overcharged. It is a known fact that when transport fares go up in Uganda, they never drops.

They are always steadily on the rise. Passengers are at the mercy of the forces of ‘demand and supply,’ and the whims of transporters, which basically means taxi operators can do as they please and charge you whatever they want. Taxi transport is unprofessional, lacking in customer service and has become archaic. We have had taxis since the 1980s!

This transport fare exploitation reaches its peak every year during Christmas time, when some upcountry bus companies double or even triple fares for passengers who are travelling upcountry to their villages.

At Serena, a presentation was made by Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) to pitch various investment opportunities in Uganda’s economy. The investors were from: Turkey, Egypt, United Kingdom, UAE, Bulgaria, Kenya, Tanzania and Thailand. The question was posed, “Why Uganda?”

Various sectors such as minerals value addition, housing, commercial agriculture, agro processing and agroindustry, tourism, services were proposed; but the sector I would like to focus on is infrastructure development, under which falls the Bus Rapid Transit Project estimated to cost $424 million, ‘The project involves the construction of bus lanes, with median and exclusive rights to the BRT buses.’

Alongside this project is the Greater Kampala Light Rail Mass Transit System estimated to cost $1 billion. Rail is complementary to buses because one relieves the other, providing an alternative for passengers and reduces traffic jam on city roads.

Where is the investor for the Bus Rapid Transit Project? May God send the investor soon! However, I think bus fares should be subsidised by the government (so transport fares are kept low and affordable to all), and rather than having a plethora of different bus companies, each charging their own fares, as they ply the capital city routes.

The city bus system should have set fares and be run by one, central government system, for example, Kampala Capital City Authority buses. Ugandans yearn for a professional bus transportation system that operates with drivers and conductors who wear uniforms; one with bus stops that follows a timetable, so passengers can plan their journey in advance; one that uses travel cards so passengers can pay for a daily, weekly, or monthly travel card, so the conductor does not have to grapple with change.

If we had such an organised public transport system, replacing taxis and boda bodas, many Kampala car owners would park their cars at home during the week and drive less frequently, which would automatically reduce the number of vehicles on the road and solve the traffic jam problem.

The writer works with Uganda Media Centre.

Comments

+1 #1 Kalibbala 2024-03-05 19:44
Very Nice insight ! We Used to have a Professional Bus Service in Uganda namely UTC before NRA/M (Notorious Robbers Army/Movement) came with Their Legacy of Death and Destruction!

Today 40 Years Later, Ugandans are Maimed by Boda Bodas on a Daily Basis!..All These Pipe Investments are on Paper!

They will never be Implemented !Where is the SGR ! Standard Gauge Railway? Kenya and Tanzania have theirs in Operation! Uganda is a Failed State with War Lords running the Country like a Cowboy Town !
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