The public transport system in Kampala and Uganda in general is a very peculiar one. Most of the time, it is shaky and very frustrating to its users. Some of its aspects include:
· It breaks down and is completely insufficient when there is a disturbance in any part of the city, like a protest or operation by the authorities against non-compliant motor vehicles
· It is overwhelmed by the big numbers of passengers every morning and evening
· Who ever heard of a public transport system that charges its users congestion fees? I thought this was supposed to be collected from motorists. However, at peak hours in Kampala , taxi fares rise by more than 40% and the excuse given is always ‘jam’
· Kampala’s taxis are the only ones in the world that have their fares rising when the cost of fuel has been dropping for the last two months. How can it be that from the city centre to Nakawa, it now costs Shs. 500 – a quarter of a litre of petrol!
· The system is also the only one in the world whose fares are at the exclusive discretion of drivers and conductors and is therefore without fixed rates arrived at transparently
· The route distribution for the taxi network is also left at the discretion of driver and conductors, which means that some areas will have an oversupply of taxis while others remain starved of service
· It is also weird because it punishes those that choose to travel early and rewards the sleepy heads. Taxi fares are higher in the early hours of the morning and drastically cheaper in the mid-morning. They then rise again just when the tired and stressed-out Kampalans retire to rejuvenate for the next day between 4pm and 8pm. This is not sustainable for Uganda ’s economy
· The public transport industry in Uganda is the one with the shabbiest, rudest and most incompetent workers, and the poorest customer relations in the country.
I am disappointed that our leaders have completely ignored the rot in the public transport system. When it comes to the lives of the ordinary voters, there seems to be less creativity and initiative on the part of these leaders. For instance, they have bent themselves backwards to be seen to be doing something about the Makerere University crisis which will be solved anyway. Makerere will be solved and reopened and there is no doubt about it! The public transport rot can only get worse and yet it is an important tool of production for millions of Ugandans compared to the closed university which directly benefits a few tens of thousands.
I laugh at those leaders and experts, including Makerere University dons, who go on and on about fighting poverty and decongesting slums but continuously fail to see how important an efficient and affordable public transport system can be in those efforts. I always hear President Yoweri Museveni castigating a section of Ugandans for being elitist and I see our public transport system as a classic example reinforcing his concern.
I would like, at this point, to salute one former Member of Parliament who had a vision to improve public transport in his constituency when he provided the market vendors there vehicles that transported them at subsidised rates. The next big thing that should happen in the parliamentary committee on social services and the House at large is to investigate the rot in the public transport system and put all of its stakeholders (UTODA, KCC, traffic police, passengers, trades union, experts, e.t.c.) in the dock. I am mostly interested in hearing what Public Enemy Number One, UTODA, has to say about itself. Our leaders must remember one thing: the users of public transport, though the most silent, are a bigger voting block than the taxi/bus owners, drivers, conductors and other operators put together. Otherwise, the ordinary commuting Ugandan faces hell everyday for a service that is important to whether on not s/he has bread on the table at home.