Thursday May 22 2014

Buying cable cars for Kampala? How about Jesus Christ on a boda boda?

By Daniel K. Kalinaki

When I read that Cabinet had approved a $175 million loan from the World Bank to install cable cars in Kampala, I was torn between laughing and throwing my hands up in despair. Cable cars? In Good ol’ Kampala? Jesus Christ on a boda boda – without a helmet!

I immediately thought of the funicular cable cars one finds in mountain passes and ski resorts, and all the things that can go wrong when installed across Kampala’s famous seven hills, now 21 and counting.

I imagined passengers stranded in the air for hours after Umeme, the electricity distributor, does its thing of cutting supply. I imagined others getting to the bottom of Old Kampala Hill only to discover that scrap metal hunters had sawn away the supporting pole, and having to dive into the Nakivubo Channel.

On closer reading, however, it appears (I hope!) that the cable cars under consideration are actually trams, which run along rails planted in roads that can also be used by other vehicles.

Part of the money, we are told, will go to widening and paving city roads.
This is all very well and, now that the city authority is receiving a lot more money for infrastructure, we need to see better work done faster.

Some of the possible solutions to decongesting the city in the short run might be simpler and cheaper than building trams, however. Here are a few suggestions from a long-suffering resident and now occasional visitor to Kampala.

One: Arrange for RVR, which runs the railway concession, to run a passenger train service from Jinja to Kampala in the morning and the evening rush-hour.

Motorists coming into the city can park their cars at the station in Jinja, at Namboole Stadium, and at other termini. They can then ride the train into town and back in the evening. This does not require new rail lines or World Bank concession loans, although it might have to be subsidised at least initially.

Two: Ban the importation of private cars that are 10 years or older into the country. There is no law that says every Ugandan must drive a car before they die. We have become a dumping ground for junk and the lack of exercise is adding to our, well, junk!

Three: Get buses back into Kampala. They carry more people, more cheaply, and more safely. In case you have forgotten, we had UTC buses many years ago, long before the Utoda madness, so this is nothing new although we might have to buy back the downtown terminus that was sold and converted into a mall. Even better, set up the termini outside the city centre, allocate bus lanes, and enforce their usage.

Four:Get boda boda motorcycles out of the Central Business District. Yes, I know -- it is a source of employment; they vote for the NRM; senior regime officials own many of the bikes, blah blah blah – but just do it. There is no ‘Universal Declaration on the Rights of Boda Boda Riders to Access the Central Business District’.

If you can’t walk from Wandegeya to Parliament, get onto the aforesaid bus, buy a car (10 years or newer) or, as one taxi tout famously allegedly told a dithering passenger, lather your bottom with a generous amount of petroleum baby jelly and slide down the famous 21 hills.

Finally, let us decide how we want to regulate the traffic. Do we install lights and punish errant drivers who disregard them? Or do we employ more traffic cops and curse them as they block our lane for 30 minutes?

What about those idiots driving cars with government registration plates who jump lanes? If we can kill a few by dropping cable cars on them from the sky then maybe that $175 million might be money well spent after all!

Mr Kalinaki is the Managing Editor, Regional Content, at Nation Media Group in Nairobi. &Twitter: @Kalinaki