Thursday May 15 2014

Why number plates are changing so fast

UAU “reigned” for a very short time and was quickly replaced

UAU “reigned” for a very short time and was quickly replaced last month by the current UAV. PHOTO BY ISMAIL KEZAALA 

By Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime

It is a current and observed development in the motor vehicle business. New number plate series are being rolled out as fast as they circulate. While the market is still all over itself upon the introduction of the UAU series, then UAV also hits the roads.

Unlike back in the day, where a number plate series would last for a year, today they last for as low as a few months. One hundred eighty new number plates are issued out daily, statistics from Uganda Revenue Authority say. The reasons for the trend seem obvious but we spoke to authoritative persons in the motor vehicle industry to share with us the exact numbers. “The country’s policy on motor vehicles explains the situation,” says Patrick Mpairwe, a licensing officer at Uganda Revenue Authority.

Fourth or fifth hand vehicles
“Uganda has not stopped people from importing all types of vehicles. Whether it is a third, fifth or ninth hand car one can import such a car into the country. And such cars are affordable,” he states.

“True there is an environmental levy of 20 per cent which is charged but nevertheless, the amount is still within the means of several people. The rest is self-explanatory, more cars implies more number plates series issued out.”

Mpairwe contrasts Uganda’s policy with that of our neighbours, Kenya. In Kenya, only vehicles that do not exceed eight years can be imported in the country.

Thus, a car that was made earlier than 2006 cannot be put on the Kenyan roads. “Imagine if that is what is being done in Uganda. Apparently, there would be fewer cars on the road the number plate series would not be moving as fast as they are doing,” he argues.

Aside from the above, the root of the trend is the absence of an adequate public transport system, opines Winstone Katushabe, secretary of Uganda Transport Licensing Board. This results into the high demand for private vehicles.
“For people who want to conveniently move from one place to another, the only option at hand is to buy private vehicles,” he explains.

“And the number of people under this category is increasing every other day. Certainly, this reflects in the numbers of registration plates issued out.”

Status symbols
The attitude of the citizenry towards cars also explains this new development, explains Dr Amin Kiggundu, a senior lecturer of Urban Planning at Makerere University. “Cars are viewed as symbols of success. This has gotten many Ugandans going to car bonds to buy cars, in a bid to fit the new definition of success.”

He also re- emphasises the issue of the affordability.
Sulaiman Kamoni, a car broker, expounds the argument of cars’ affordability by highlighting the conducive payment terms that have been adopted by most car bonds in the country. Many car bonds accept installment payments.

“This has made it possible for many people to purchase cars. The consequence is that more vehicles have been put on the road and more number plates are issued,” Kamoni says.

What next?
UAV is the number plate series on the market today. Certainly from that we will have UAW and the last will be UAZ. This has got many wondering the next step thereafter. In such a situation, the Traffic and Road Safety Act, mandates the Minister of Works and Transport to issue new number plates, says Mpairwe.

“The guiding principle is; the minister is expected to look into his register and determine what he has issued and what he has not. The idea is to avoid contradiction or repetition in the number plates given out. The ease in continuity while determining the next number plates has to be considered. It should be clear that if the first one is UCA 001A, the next one should be UCA 001B” he says.

“Discussions are still ongoing about what the next registration series will be. But, since boda bodas have been given the UBA and UDA, the upcoming number plates are likely to start at UCA 001A.”

The URA licensing officer dispels the worry that the responsible authorities could run out of initials to use for the number plates, going by the rate at which they are given out. “The last initials are likely to be UZZ 999Z. I can assure Ugandans that it will take a very long time before we reach there,” he concludes.


It is a debate that has been prevailing for a long time among folks who buy, or are on the verge of buying cars. Is it the number plate series that is important or the condition of the car?
Besides price and choice of car, the two factors also bother car buyers’ minds, that is, some people are conscious of the state of the car while others pay attention to whether the number plate series the car carries is new or close to the recent one.

Prioritising the number plate series is a misguided move, says Sulaiman Kamoni, a car broker in Salama, a city suburb. The folly is born of the assumption that a car bearing a current number plate or one close to the trending one is new.

“That is absolutely wrong,” he explains. “Yes, the car maybe from the bond but people should not forget almost all cars in the bonds have been used. They are second or even third hands. Unless where one is buying from, say, Spear Motors. So, much as the car maybe under UAV series, it could have been involved in many accidents. Its engine could be bad,” he adds.

Instead attention should be focused on the situation of the car, says Benon Lubwama, a car broker at Pine Bond, along Lumumba Avenue. One should be mindful of the car’s mileage, and check the car’s body to ensure it has not been involved in accidents. One may request to do a test-drive to establish the state of its gear box and engine.
“In other words, it is the condition of the car that is paramount. Driving a car bearing an up-to-date number plate is trendy but prioritising the issue is like being mindful of form instead of substance,” Lubwama concludes.