Thursday August 28 2014

Rethink urban public transport

This week commenced with a taxi operators’ strike that left many commuters stranded. The strike over disagreements between taxi operators and Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) forced many people to walk to work.

The taxi operators were protesting what they called “harassment and extortion” by a transport regulating body, Taxi Parks/Stages Coordinating Committee, which carries out its enforcement functions on behalf of KCCA.

This is not the first time taxi drivers in Kampala have gone on strike. There are several past incidences triggered by different factors but the impact is always the same – disruption of public transport. The few commuter vehicles that operate during such strikes often charge exorbitant fares.

We need an urgent review of the city’s transport system. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (2012) puts Kampala’s current population at 2.7 million people and it is growing at a rate of 4.5 per cent per annum, which is greater than the national average of 3.0 per annum.

This makes a comprehensive and coordinated transport master plan to manage the ever-increasing city population, including the more than 1.4 million passengers on the nine major city routes, who use public transport, crucial.

An organised bus and rail transport would significantly improve public transport for Kampala residents. About two years ago, the Ministry of Works and Transport, with funding from the World Bank, started implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems for the Greater Kampala.

A private bus operator, Pioneer Easy Bus Company, started operating in and around the city. This was a welcome relief for city commuters because it was relatively cheaper than commuter taxis.

However, this arrangement did not last long. KCCA is now planning to revamp the city’s rail transport system. This is a good initiative; rail transport, coupled with buses, would solve Kampala’s transport challenge and save commuters from the frequent inconveniences caused by strikes and high fares by taxi operators.

The Bus Rapid Transit is by far the most effective city transportation system that can tackle traffic jams, road congestion, accidents and air pollution in cities.

BRT systems have successfully been implemented in cities like Bogota in Colombia, Jakarta Indonesia, and many more. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Lagos in Nigeria have also started the implementation of BRT systems.

What Kampala needs is an efficient transport system. With proper planning and the resolve to transform the city, KCCA can find a lasting solution to Kampala’s transport challenge. The change should start now.