Thursday May 29 2014

The day i used a truck as a taxi

A truck with passengers on it. It has become

A truck with passengers on it. It has become commonplace to see these trucks in the traffic getting out of Kampala City in the evenings as more people opt for the trucks to cut costs of transport. PHOTOs BY Abubaker Lubowa 

By Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime

It was not necessary. Mocking me was not going to help matters. But he was oblivious of this. I was bitter but I could not show it. My mind could not even consider the idea – of making my displeasure known. The conductor was a mountain of a man. His piercing eyes were already giving me a goose flesh. So what his beefy limbs would do was obvious.

Fellow passengers were also indifferent. They murmured in his support. I was apparently the black sheep. I chose to stay silent; one of the few incidents when caution from self-help books comes in handy.

The burly conductor asked around if anyone had loose notes for the Shs20,000 note that I had given him. To my relief someone did.
I was handed my change with a stern warning from the burly tout; “If you have to show off that you are Shs20,000 rich, do not do it on a Fuso. Everyone who travels by these trucks is aware that they are obliged to have the exact amount for the fare. It is just Shs1,000.”
A child, across from me, who was lying on her mother’s laps giggles. I fiddled with my phone to conceal my embarrassment. It was late but I could not help wishing I had received briefing about the ways of commuting in the city by a truck.

Why I was travelling on a truck
Travelling by trucks is a new trend that is gaining popularity. A colleague who had noticed this, tipped me off. He suggested that I commute by one and share this story.

The trucks are a common sight on Namirembe Road, in the evening. Their drivers help themselves to parking lots along the road that become vacant when their occupants -private vehicle owners - leave. The most popular one is the parking space at Centenary Bank.

Who uses the trucks?

I arrive there at 6.30pm on a Wednesday. Passengers start gathering at around 6.45pm. Their sense of dress hints that they are people from all walks of life. Some are casually dressed while others are clad in office attire. I get more clues about the calibre of the passengers from their luggage. Some are balancing weaved baskets or saucepans on their heads, others have loaded sacks and polythene bags and there are a few that have backpacks.

The first truck arrives at 7pm. It is from the direction of the central business district. It is a micro van popularly known as “Nyongeza”. The tout calls out for people taking the Nansana – Wakiso route for Shs1000.The taxis charge Shs1,500 to Nansana and Shs2000 to Wakiso. So one is able to save Shs1,000.

The assembled passengers scramble for space. The truck fills up as fast as it came. I notice that the front seats are reserved for folk dressed in office wear. The truck is close to the ground so there are no difficulties climbing it.

I deliberately desist from boarding. I want to first observe the bustle people face while boarding. Ten minutes later, two Fuso trucks reach the parking space. While they are loading passengers, a traffic police man occurs in the place. The drivers hastily drive away amidst calls to hold on, from passengers who were mid-way the climb onto the trucks.

A gentleman walks to the officer and engages him in what seems like a negotiation to permit the trucks to operate from the parking space. He succeeds. Because a few minutes later more trucks arrive.

I chat with one of the touts. He informs me that the trucks have been operational since about 2010. During the day, they are hired to transport merchandise from the central business district. In the evening, they make use of the opportunity of people who are willing to travel in them for below the standard fare.

Boarding the truck

At 8.40pm, the fourth Fuso truck of the evening arrives. The time is ripe for my maiden experience. My first attempt at boarding is an unsuccessful one. The truck is higher from the ground than I had assumed. Other short passengers are facing an equally hard time getting on. Some hold out their hands for their friends who are already aboard to support them. There is also a log from which you can climb with ease. The women dominate it. When the numbers reduce, I also make use of it.

The journey
Our destination is “Yesu Amala” in Nansana. The truck has rails on the sides of its cargo area. Most of the passengers hold onto them. Doing so mitigates the impact of the jerks and bumps. Some women lie down and sit on pieces of cloth on the floor of the truck.
The passengers engage in group conversation (groups of two, three and as many as five people). I eavesdrop on some of the talk – of course for this story’s sake. The subjects vary from the regime in the country, domestic challenges, financial ones and TV soaps.

In Namungoona, we find a number of traffic officers. I am not surprised that they do not stop us. The tout I talked to earlier had revealed to me that the officers are also aware that people who choose to use the trucks are forced to do so by financial constraints. In other wards they let the offence pass on humanitarian grounds.

After the Namugoona round about, the conductor asks us to pay. He walks around collecting the fare. When he approaches me I give him a Shs20,000 note. He bashes me for behaving like I have not travelled by the trucks before.

Passengers are expected to have exactly Shs1,000 on them, I am told. We reach Yesu Amala at around 9.20pm. I jump off with the few remaining passengers. They sigh and stretch their limbs, relieved to have reached their destination. “Do not mind, those conductors are like that. At times they act like they are not human beings,” says, a one Patricia (a woman that I became acquainted with during the journey) as she bids me farewell.