Covid-19 lockdown: Traffic mess bites businesses hard

Saturday July 25 2020

Motorists in traffic jam on 8th Street, Namuwongo, Kampala. Many Ugandans have had to endure the traffic mess during the Covid-19 lockdown, which has affected their businesses. PHOTO/ABUBAKE R LUBOWA

Two hours; that is the time John Mark Mukasa, a fashion designer, working in Nakasero, Kampala spent to move from work to his home in Nansana, Wakiso District.

Alternatively, he would have jumped on a boda boda and gotten home in not more than 30 minutes.
This is an ordeal that many Ugandans have had to endure during the Covid-19 lockdown that started in March. Unending lines of vehicles snaked through the city, even during hours previously considered traffic jam-free.

“This traffic jam is just a mess. If it is not better in the evening, I will leave past curfew time,” Immy Nansanga, a shopkeeper, exclaims as she signed in at office at 10:15am.

Her anticipation had been to spend 15 minutes on the road from Bukoto to Eighth Street in Namuwongo, Kampala, having left at 9am.
With the country striving to curb the spread of the coronavirus, President Museveni announced a raft of measures. Among these, the ban prohibiting motorcycles from carrying passengers, and the 7pm to 6:30am curfew produced a traffic menace in Kampala city.
It became routine for commuters in Kampala and metropolitan areas to go to bed worried about getting to work and later back home.

The easing of restrictions on private and public vehicles meant more vehicles on the road within a limited time of movement while the ban on boda bodas eliminated the option of jumping onto one for a quick errand or to beat cutthroat jam.

“I miss the Bajaj (boda boda). I am actually spending almost close to what I used to spend on a Bajaj. Then, I would get to save time and actually don’t lose that much on the money but this time round, I am not saving money and I am wasting a lot of time in traffic,” Mukasa says.


Mukasa’s journey from his home in Nansana is punctuated by gridlocks of traffic at the Nabweru junction, in Lubigi where there is a road block, at Kasubi and at Bakuli.

According to Google Maps, it would take 21 minutes to move from Nansana to Kampala City.
With the presidential directives came mounting of several road blocks and traffic enforcement officers. Their technique of blocking one side of the road has been seen to slow down the flow of traffic, causing gridlocks at checkpoints and elongated cues on junctions.

The traffic control officers also have a pattern they follow while allowing vehicles to enter the city in the morning and in the evening. Rarely is traffic on signalled roads allowed to flow as intended.
The transport challenges have spilled into Mukasa’s business, cutting down his clientele and income, with the curfew affecting the hours available for business.

“This lockdown is restricting my movements. If I have clients in Kabalagala,, Kampala, I cannot risk it. All that is traffic with a highlight, there is no panya…in a day I used to see five clients now I see two, why, because I don’t know how much time I am going to spend in a taxi to meet one client. While you’re meeting with one client, you get a call from another client. I cannot see you today, I need to beat the traffic,” he says.

With a boda boda, however, it was quite easy. “I am in Nansana and in 30 minutes, I am in town,” he adds.
Mukasa disagrees with the reasoning that boda bodas would be a hotspot for transmission of the virus. “In a taxi I am exposed to more than eight people,” he says.

Effect on work
For Michelle, a resident of Kiwatule who works in Ntinda, leaving home by 6:40am to beat the morning rush and leaving by 3pm is her way to beat the mess. The other option is to leave home at about 10 am, when the morning rush has calmed. This, however, cannot do for Kirabira Umar, a resident of Kasangati, working at Generation Health Initiative in Entebbe District.

He spends approximately four hours on the road per day.
“On a daily basis, you have only three hours of serious work, which is quite less compared to the optimal time that a worker should be working. Traffic Jam is actually affecting our work. Averagely, we have less hours at work and limited output,” Kirabira says.

“If a customer wants me to take them to Mukuno at 2pm, and yet I stay in Kibuye, I will decline. Then you’ll await one going to Kibuye and fail to get one, adding an empty car unto the traffic,” Ismail Sserunkuma, a special hire vehicle driver, says.

He adds: “Right now, there are more private cars on the road because of the hike in public transport fares. Even those with private cars who used to take public transport have got their cars to the road .”

Another man only identified himself as Hassan, a taxi driver on Luzuira route, says curfew has exacerbated traffic jam because everyone gets on the road at the same time, which overwhelms the small roads, as opposed to when people would move at different times.

“You may spend even three hours from here to Luzira: As you get out of here (Burton Street), you encounter heavy traffic on Kampala Road, then more at Meat Parkers, Bugolobi. If you decide to go through Kitintale, you encounter more traffic. It is only past Kitintantale that traffic eases up. On return, if you choose to go through Mutungo, you find traffic at Kuunya, on Namboole Road, and then the mess on Jinja Road,” Hassan says.

“I will make a maximum of three trips. We are anxious of curfew. I would have made five trips if curfew wasn’t in place. It doesn’t make business sense and yet the bosses want their cut,” he adds.

City transport plans
Plans to improve transport and find a lasting solution to the traffic mess in the city have not been realised. The Multi Modal Urban Transport Master Plan for Greater Kampala Metropolitan launched by KCCA in 2018 that aims at reducing traffic congestion in the city by introducing a Bus and Rail Transit Systems still remains on paper.

KCCA recently rolled out an exercise to allocate taxis to particular routes as a means of creating order and regulating the public transport sector. This, however, two months later, is yet to yield results.

Road works
Many sections of the road network in the metropolitan area like those at the Northern bypass are also under construction.

Richard Mugisa, a civil engineer, told Saturday Monitor that although contractors create diversions as an alternative for traffic flow, they are easily overwhelmed by traffic.

“The diversions are decided on as the nearest convenient solution to turn traffic away, irrespective of whether it will discharge properly or not. Diversions are not designed to handle the volume of traffic they receive,” Mugisa say.
“In the absence of diversions, and traffic has to share a site, more jam is create. You are trying to drive through and they are trying to work, in that case, such road sections are worked on when traffic is less on the road, like at night, on public holidays so as to avoid peak time of movement. Where it is not managed properly, you will have traffic congestion, for example, Acacia-Golf course stretch,” he adds.

In his 19th address to the nation on Tuesday, President Museveni, extended curfew time, which was previously starting at 7pm and ending at 6:30am to run from 9pm to 5:30 am. Boda bodas are also expected to resume carrying passagers on Monday 27.

For Mukasa, Hassan and Sserunkuma, however, it will take a while to recover from the negative effects of lockdown on their businesses.