The taxis you missed
Posted Sunday, October 27 2013 at 00:00
There were very few but classy taxis in the transport industry. Good mechanical condition was a must for all vehicles. Unlike today, the fare passengers paid then depended on the distance they covered.
It is one service industry that many, if not all Ugandans, love to hate or hate to love. From the five-sitter Angalia to a 10-seater Peugeot 203 to the current 16-seater , the taxi industry has been through all of them. The taxi business in Uganda is probably the only one which has been run and managed by Ugandans from inception to date. The taxi business is one of the oldest in the country that has weathered both the political and economic challenges the country has gone through.
At one time or another a taxi has come in handy, not even President Museveni could avoid it. One day, his helicopter failed and the convoy was not nearby, but a taxi was readily available and saved the day.
From back then
Dissatisfied Ugandan drivers working for Indians and tired or unhappy government drivers decided to become their own bosses. From their savings they started the taxi business as a means of survival.
The industry started establishing itself in the 50s, not as an organised business because everyone was trying to earn a living. From the start, there were no defined stages like it is now. It was not until 1956 when the first organised stages were introduced and these were for the long routes like Masaka, Jinja, Bombo, Luwero, Mityana, Entebbe and Bugerere. They were later followed by the city service pioneer permanent stages like Luzira, Bwaise Mulago and Nateete.
Why ply long routes?
Long routes or upcountry taxis took time to be established mainly because of the Asian merchants who dominated the trade those days. It was mainly for trading purposes that people travelled long distances and the Indians filled that gap with a system of loading goods onto lorries and take different routes. “In the late 50s and early 60s, Indian traders used to load assorted good on lorries and take different upcountry routes, sometimes taking more than a week before they came back to Kampala. One such route was from Kampala through Gayaza to Jinja via Bugerere. People on this route knew when the Asians were coming and wait instead of travelling to Kampala,” explains Musinga Kiberu, a taxi operator who has been around since 1950s.
Kiberu has been in the taxi business for more than 50 years, and he has seen the industry go through changes both good and bad. From the time when the park was a one-stop centre for taxis, lorries, pickup trucks, a garage, and a washing bay- to touts being paid per passenger they managed to bring on board and then, the time when politics entered the industry, Kiberu has seen it all.
“The first taxi I drove in the 1960s was a Morris five-seater. From the 1950s to late 60s the cars of choice were Morris, Zepha, Angalia, and Oxford. All these were five-seaters. It was not until the mid-1960s that the Peugeot 203 first came to be followed by Peugeot 403 also known as Bata, which was a 10-seater,” recalls Kiberu.
Fares depended on distance
The 403 was followed by Peugeot 504 which was a pick-up with a box like structure on the behind which was fitted with two benches facing each other. This took the transport to a new level as it carried 12 passengers and it was this kind that first introduced the idea of having a conductor in the taxi.
“By this time we had no defined routes, it was the passenger availability that determined the route. Unlike now where you have the fares fixed, then the fares depended on the distance travelled. A trip to Masaka was Shs8 while the one to Mityana was Shs4, a tout was paid 30 cents per passenger he got into the car. This meant that if he managed to fill a five-seater he would make Shs 1.50 cents. A passenger going to Kyengera would take a taxi going to Masaka and pay only for the distance covered. However, this mode of payment for the miles one covered phased out during Amin’s regime,” says Kiberu.
How one acquired a car
As more routes opened up, there was need for more cars. Unfortunately, it was not a free market like it is today. For one to buy a car, they had to fill in an application form from the agents of the car dealers. The agent would then forward the application to the Ministry of Works. On the forms you indicated the kind of car you wanted to buy and its cost. Until the mid-70s, government determined the number of vehicles that plied a particular route.
According to Kiberu, back then, the owners of taxis were the drivers. People drove their cars. A taxi driver was rich; he could afford to own a car unlike today where most drivers do not own them. Towns outside Kampala had different cooperative societies which united them. They each had a representative in Kampala unlike the current chaos. Such cooperatives included Sezibwa Taxi Cooperative Society in Bugerere, Jinja Taxi Cooperative Society, Masaka United, Entebbe Hire and Taxi Cooperative Society and Mityana Taxi Drivers. In 1964, the Uganda Taxi Cooperative Society was formed but those created outside Kampala remained affiliates of the national one.
Kampala City Council, KCC as it was known then, started registering taxis in 1973, a year later in 1974 it began charging the registered taxis 50 cents levy per taxi per day, four years later the fee rose to Shs1.30cents. That saw an end to the free entry and exit for people who wished to venture into the business.
Until later in 1970, the park was one-stop centre for all public transport save for the buses. It had lorries, pick-ups, a washing bay, and a garage. Where the present day Bugerere stage is located was where the garage was, the stairs near Yamaha Centre are where freedom tree commonly known as Omuti gwe mirembe was and, behind the Kikoni stage was a washing bay.
Though the taxi business was not government-controlled, in 1964 it picked interest in the service being provided and decided to take three drivers to London to study how the taxi industry operated there.
No more touts
However with the 1971 coup, politics found its way into the taxi industry. As soon as 1973, the governor of central province, Nasur Abdullah, in company of Hajji Musa Sebirumi who had been a soda vendor in the bus park held a rally in the park. Henceforth, the governor banned touts and brokers.