COMMUTER BUSSES IN KAMPALA, A NOVEL WAY TO EXPLORE THE CITY
The recent, yet politically highly charged introduction of a fleet of brand new commuter busses into the city has opened up new options for visitors to Kampala, finally being able to cut through the maze of routes and pick up points of the commonly used taxis or otherwise referred to as matatus and being able to drive across Kampala with fixed pick up and end points of a published route network.
At a price of a ticket of just 800 Uganda Shillings per trip, the cost for the wananchi is now half of that using a matatu and no wonder have those chaps gone on strike, shortlived as it may have been.
Politicians with a reported vested interest in the public transport sector, some of them alleged to own dozens of the commuter taxis licensed to carry 14 people but often cramming in a lot more, incited the strike and tried to ban Pioneer Bus from starting operations including misusing parliament to do their dirty work. Pretending once more to be the advocates of the people they as usual ended up being the tormentors of the very people they were elected to represent, in parliament and in the city council too. Only weeks ago did a court ruling reaffirm the KCCAs decision not to renew the almost 30 year old and hugely lucrative contract by UTODA, the Uganda Taxi Owners and Drivers Association, and take transport management on directly, boosting its income and cutting the cords between corrupt politicians and the alleged corrupters, also alleged to be billions of Shillings in arrears. Drivers then welcomed their release from literal bondage but when the KCAA then demanded that they pay 120.000 Shillings per month in licensing fees, they were swift to strike for a few days, prompting government to fast track the introduction of the new Pioneer Bus services.
And I still say lo and behold, government and the Kampala City Council Authority did stand up to be counted and did the right thing and let operations commence, while the finer details of registrations, licensing and permits are being resolved.
City dwellers have taken to the new services with a gusto and considering the savings they can make, it can translate into as much as a litre of milk they can now afford to bring home every day instead of having to fork it out on transport cost, the new way of safer and cheaper commuting options surely is here to stay. 4 to 5 regular matatus loads of passengers fit into any one of the new busses which have a capacity of 30 seats and 30 stands strictly observed I am told by a source from within the company and with over 500 of them ordered, 100 imported and over 60 already now plying the roads of Kampala and environs that created added capacity for commuters and bargaining power as matatus already started to slash fares. The city authority has designated some 800 bus stops and information from the company has confirmed that more busses will be arriving over the coming months as they seek to capture their market share in Kampala, before probably expanding to other urban centres.
For visitors on a budget, who have up to now often resorted to taking the Evil Kneevil copy cats, aka Boda Bodas or moped / light motorbike transport option, they now can use a bus service to explore the city from end to end, as yours truly used to do when visiting Berlin for a couple of summer vacations back in the 60s, using subways not available of course in Kampala and busses to drive from start to finish on a route.
In London of course tourists do that all the time with the Tube and the London busses, and here at least visitors to Kampala have an added option to explore, relatively safely, the Kampala Metropolitan area and see life as it is in Kampala, traffic jammed, busy, hectic to a point, colourful, varied but far from what the international media often make it out to be they will not see riots, not see burning as much of that is a fiction created by media houses, and I am not saying scuffles have not taken place, just not as they have been portrayed and shown.
In my Kenyan days a lady called Kathy Eldon, aka The Iron Stomach, was a food critic and ate her way across the finest restaurants in the city but also the take aways, the road side pork roasting joints along River Road and local restaurants only locals would frequent. I intend to emulate her in my own fashion, she wrote about food and I write about travel, by taking the Pioneer busses myself and commute some distance with them across the city to have a firsthand experience, until now only narrated by my staff and Ugandans commonly using public transport.
But for now, it is a welcome sight on our roads to see the new orange coloured busses and the prospect of less congestion and wider choices for Kampalas stressed commuters.