Passengers stranded as public transport reopens

Passengers stranded at the New Taxi Park in Kampala. Many had flocked the taxi park to travel upcountry after government lifted the ban on public transport. PHOTO BY KELVIN ATUHAIRE

There was confusion yesterday after many passengers who had hoped to travel following the reopening of public transport were left stranded on many roads in different parts of the country.
Thousands of passengers, especially in urban areas, had walked miles hoping to get buses or taxis but were left helpless because very few public transport vehicles returned to the roads after two month of Covid-19 lockdown.
Early in the morning, the passengers who were moving out of their homes in two months in Kampala Metropolitan area vainly waited for hours on the roadside.

The few vehicles that stopped at different stages were swarmed by passengers who struggled to get seats and disregarded the social distancing directives to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

With public service vehicles directed to carry only half the normal passenger capacity during this period, some travelers in the city suburbs decided to walk to the city centre to access public transport and travel to the village. Others walked to their places of work. But it wasn’t helpful because there were very few buses and taxis.

Although fares doubled, it also didn’t appeared to be an issue to the passengers because many were willing to part with any amount to reach their destination.

Mr Peter Kaujju, the Kampala Capital City Authority spokesperson, said most taxi drivers had not registered as a requirement to operate in the city centre.

“Even for those that had registered with the city authority, they didn’t have Public Service Vehicle (PSV) and Third party licences so they could not be allowed on the road. Both PSV and Third party licenses are issued by the Works ministry,” Mr Kaujju said.

Last week, KCCA started registering taxis in the city centre and they were giving route charts, numbers to each after they had paid all the licences and insurance.

Many taxi owners didn’t have money to pay for taxes and the insurance because they had spent months without working. Each taxi is supposed to pay between Shs650,000 to Shs1m.

Police officers mounted roadblocks on all major roads to ensure only those with valid documents operate.
The deputy chairperson of Uganda Transport Development Agency (Utrada), Mr Castrol Ssekyaya, said the valid PSV and third party Licences for taxi operators expired during the lockdown.

“Taxi operators were unable to go to the Ministry of Works and Transport and insurance companies since there were no transport means. Government should have given us a grace period of two months to acquire the required documents,” he said.

Mr Ssekyaya added that those that were allowed to operate on the streets after the renovation of the Old Taxi Park were chased from the stages by the police.

But traffic police spokesperson Charles Ssebambulidde disagreed with him saying: “Some of the taxi operators misinterpreted the route guidelines which were given by KCCA and the Works ministry and choose to operate from stages where they are not supposed to be and this is why they were evicted and sent to Usafi Park,” he said.

However, some passengers managed to reach the city but failed to go upcountry. The confusion hit hard travellers such as Mr Benson Mushoroza, Mr Julius Okwi and Ms Starmo Aceng.

Ms Aceng, an expectant mother, who had travelled from Entebbe to the Usafi Taxi Park with plans to go to Pallisa District, got stranded.

“I cannot fight with other passengers to get a seat. If I do not get a taxi, I will have to sleep here in the park,” she said. They were charging Shs50,000 to Paliisa up from Shs16,000.

The situation wasn’t different in major urban areas such as Masaka, Mbale, Mbarara, Gulu, Soroti, and Fort Portal.
In Fort Portal, by 9am at Mpanga Stage, only three taxis had set off for Kampala. On a normal day, more than 10 taxis leave Fort Portal to Kampala between 2am and 9am.

Mr Alamanzan Kato, a taxi driver in Fort Portal, said he could not drive to Kampala since his PSV licence expired during the lockdown. “I need to raise Shs650,000 to pay before I resume work,” he said.

At Mbarara Taxi Park, three taxis were impounded for violating the directives. Two of the PSVs were from Rukungiri District while one was from Rubirizi District.

Ms Sumayyah Nalubega, a teacher in Masaka District, said she had planned to travel “at all cost” to Kampala City to attend to her sick mother who is admitted to Kiruddu Hospital but failed.
In districts on the borders where public transport is still under lockdown, some taxi operators, desperate to make money, used rural roads to bypass police road checks.

Reported by Alex Ashaba, Amos Ngomoya, Rajab Mmukombozi, Felix Basiime, Damali Mukhaye, Al-mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Philip Wafula, Malik F. Jjingo, Denis Edema, Sam Opio Caleb & Andrew Bagala