A bus terminal and a modern taxi park, which were commissioned in Masaka Town many years ago, are yet to become operational.
The bus terminal was commissioned in 1953 and 43 years later, the town got a modern taxi park.
However, both places are dilapidated and represent shadows of their past.
“Both facilities were constructed with the use of public funds and according to approved municipal plans, they were constructed with a view of facilitating public transport and to attract local revenue to support the municipality budget and service delivery. However, they are in a poor state and abandoned,” Mr Jaferi Ssekyewa, a Masaka Town resident, says.
In the past, Mr Ssekyewa says, public transport operator groups could be given tenders to manage the parks and to collect revenue, which they would remit to the municipality.
The bus terminal is on Grant Street in Garden Cell. The facility has a public toilet, some concrete seats for travellers, a wide shelter and rooms that were once shops from which travellers would buy soft drinks and eatables. They are now locked up.
In the 1970s and 1980s, this was the place to board buses. Today, not a single bus goes there and it is almost deserted, save for a few female food vendors who have turned the place into their workplace. The walls of the building are as strong as ever before, but they need painting and the glass window panes need replacement.
Mzee Solomon Kasitta, 70, who lived in Masaka in the 1950s before relocating to Luweero District in the 1970s, said: “Having grown up in Masaka Town, we used to walk around the bus terminal which was a lively place, but it is now a dilapidated and abandoned park,” he says
The gazetted taxi park on Kyewalyanga Road in Bata Cell is also a deserted place apart from a few residential spaces and business people earning a living by washing 30-seater omnibuses (coasters). Some of the shop buildings that were once brisk business places are now used to keep pigs, goats, sheep, and native poultry.
Taxi drivers have set up a few places where they regularly pick passengers particularly on the Kampala-Mbarara Highway in Kyabakuza, Kijjabwemi, Total Highway, and Nyendo.
The other places include New Kumbu for those travelling to Rakai and Kyotera districts, the road junction opposite Masaka lands office, in front of absa Bank Masaka Branch, and dfcu Bank buildings.
Asked why they have compromised with ungazetted places that have no lavatory facilities, restaurants, or established shops, Masaka Municipal Council authorities merely look puzzled.
Mr Emma Gakyaro, the deputy town clerk, says: “There is hardly anything we can do to make them [public transport operators] resume work in the approved parks since their work has been highly politicised. We no longer collect any revenue from them.”
Mr Gakyaro’s comment was not any different from that of the mayor, Mr Godfrey Kayemba Afaayo, who says: “The problem is much bigger than you think. It is not only Masaka’s problem. It is nationwide. All mayors, town clerks and other urban council leaders have met his Excellency President Museveni a number of times to explain to him the problem. The last meeting actually took place here in Masaka. He appeared to understand our plight, but as far as we know, he has not taken any action yet.”
“Our annual budget from local revenue collection is about Shs2b, the money we use for garbage collection, lighting, beautification of the town and other issues. Any other money we get which is about Shs25 billion is in form of conditional grants, salaries for government employees, grants to health centres and other government projects, and we cannot use it for other purposes,” he says.
When Masaka Municipal authorities were still collecting revenue from public transport operators, Mr Afaayo says they used to collect more than Shs835 million every year to finance their budget.
“For now, close to three years, we have not been getting this money because government banned revenue collection from taxi operators. Getting them to work in the registered places is difficult,” he says.
Using money generated from taxi and bus operators, Mr Afaayo says the municipal managed to buy the former Bank of Baroda building on Elgin Street, which currently houses some of the municipal offices.
The senior presidential press secretary, Mr Don Wanyama, says Masaka Municipal authorities are free to express their dissatisfaction to the president if it is crippling servicing delivery.
“Local government authorities are aware of the structures to use when complaining about any presidential directive, I do not think the media is one of them,” Mr Wanyama says, adding:
“Authorities should instead use proper channels to formally express their disillusionment.”
There have been several attempts to push public transport operators back to their gazetted parks, but all in vein.
In 2015, the operators of 30-seater omnibuses (coasters), who were still using the taxi park then also abandoned it and started operating in an open space on Kampala Road claiming they were no longer getting passengers.
Mr Afaayo says the bus park, measuring 1.5 acres will in future have to be replaced by shopping malls as there might not be space in the town’s main business centre for buses.
It remains to be seen whether Masaka, which is warming up to become a city this July, will operate without a regulated public transport system.