Tuesday June 3 2014

A strict regulation of boda boda business in Kampala long overdue

By Cato N. Lund

On my way to church on Sunday, I passed through a junction overcrowded with boda bodas; there were also two huge buses.

A boda boda had apparently come on the wrong side of the centre strip on the main road and hit one of the buses. The amount of blood on the road seemed to indicate that it was the last manoeuvre the boda boda rider made.

Whether he had a passenger, was impossible to know; victims had already been carried away.

A week earlier, I observed a similar accident, though not fatal, at another junction - a wrecked motorbike under the front wheel of a truck. Given the obvious ignorance concerning traffic rules and the overrating of their own agility and control of the bike, a serious regulation of the boda boda business is long overdue.

Some time back, there was a registration exercise and 54,000 boda bodas were reportedly registered. As part of the measures, the registered riders should have crash helmets and reflective vests in a colour indicating which stage they belonged to. The remaining boda bodas were supposed to be weeded out of Kampala.

Later, the traffic police came out with a declaration that driving without crash helmets, carrying more than one passenger and transporting voluminous goods on motorbikes would now come to an end. The police were very serious about this. I wish they had included one more rule: no passenger below the age of 12.

One day, we read in the papers that police had taken action against riders without helmets, and sure enough, for a period of time more riders used their helmets.

Recently, however, more and more have reverted to their old priority of using the helmets to protect the headlights of the bike; it says something about where they think the brighter light is shining.
Only a few weeks ago, we read about drama when the police cracked down on the habit of carrying two or three passengers on one bike.

That has apparently had no lasting effect; two or three passengers on a boda boda are still a common sight, even five as I saw once - two children in front on the tank and three behind on the passenger seat. That the boda boda took on such a crazy responsibility is one thing, but what kind of parents send their underage children on a boda boda? One is bad enough, but five?

So, riders without helmets, multiple passengers and dangerous goods transportation still exists, police intervention notwithstanding. A day’s action is not enough to show that the police are serious.

The patrols that stop us to check insurance and permit, should also take keen interest in the overloaded motorbikes carrying people without helmets. It must be a 24/7 interest if it shall have any lasting effect.
That interest should also comprise automobile drivers who seem to think they are participating in a rally race.

Their automatic reaction when they catch up with a queue is to overtake it without considering the reason why there is a line-up; or when reaching a jam, to try and force their way through it without realising that they might represent the final plug that causes a complete stand-still.
City traffic is not a rally and a competition to come first.

If everybody understood that it is a question of cooperation for all to reach their destinations safely and with minimum delay, there would be a smooth, however slow from time to time, flow of traffic and there would be no more talk about ‘narrow streets’ in Kampala.

They are not narrower than streets elsewhere; they are made narrow by the way they are used.

Mr Lund is a visiting senior lecturer, Department of Architecture and Physical Planning- Makerere University. catonlund@gmail.com