Bus operators call off strike

A bus operator issues a ticket to a traveller at Kisenyi Bus Terminal onAugust 24, 2023 after the strike was called off. PHOTO/ ISAAC KASAMANI 

What you need to know:

  • Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, blamed the government for the dispute, saying the problem arose when KCCA privatised bus transport.

Bus operators yesterday called off their three-day strike after receiving a letter from the Ministry of Local Government inviting them for a meeting today.

The strike that has been ongoing since August 22, saw thousands of travellers stranded in the six bus terminals in Kampala City. The strike also saw taxi operators take advantage of the situation to hike transport fares to upcountry destinations.

There was a sigh of relief yesterday from travellers as bus operations resumed at around 2:30 p.m.

When Monitor visited the different bus terminals, there was a bee-hive of activity as travellers made their way into the buses. Bus drivers could be seen rejoicing; luggage carriers, food vendors, touts, ton boys/men whose jobs had been affected by the strike were all in high spirits.

Ms Hope Arinaitwe, who we found in Kisenyi Bus Terminal boarding a bus to Mbarara District, said she was so happy.

“We can now travel in peace; this strike has affected our businesses. Let the responsible people solve their problems so that we don’t have such a crisis again,” Ms Arinaitwe said.

Mr Simon Odong, who was boarding a bus to Soroti District, said he was overjoyed to see that bus operations had resumed.

“When I am travelling long distances, I only use buses because they are convenient with fresh air. This strike has really affected me because I travel in buses at least twice a week,” Mr Odong said.
Information from a bus operators’ association suggests that at least 44,850 people use buses every day to different parts of the country and across borders. That figure represents the maximum number of 65 people who are believed to board each of the 690 buses which operate from or within Uganda daily.

A senior official with the association, Mr Robert Mutebi told Monitor yesterday that they suspended the strike following a meeting over new Shs2.4 million annual levy, and the scheduling of another sit-down at the Ministry of Local Government today.

“With due respect to the government, and with due respect to our customers, we have decided to temporarily suspend our sit-down strike,” he said.  

“We do not want to close business again, because it affects the public, we pray that the government can listen to our pleas and scrap this tax.”

Minister of Local Government Raphael Magyezi yesterday said: “We shall resolve the matter tomorrow; we shall be with KCCA, Minister of Works, Minister of Trade and our permanent secretaries and we shall resolve this matter”. 

In a February 23 letter to Speaker of Parliament Anita Among, bus operators had requested that government drops implementation of the park user fees of Shs2.4 million per bus, per year, among others.

“The current charges are many and high. They should be consolidated into one affordable fee. We pray that all the taxies/levies for acquiring a licence should be combined into a total fee of Shs1,840,000, per bus, to apply as a total and final annual fee for a licence to the government,” the letter  reads in part.

Yesterday, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, blamed the government for the dispute, saying the problem arose when KCCA privatised bus transport.

“They sold off Uganda Transport Company, we don’t own a single bus park or terminal, it’s a very big crisis. So if you don’t own a park as government and you want revenue and to regulate transport, then you have a problem,” he said.

“In the aftermath of the demise of Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association, we had a vacuum on how to manage taxi parks and collect revenue. My policy direction was to enact an ordinance to regulate public transport in Kampala because we have that mandate under the KCCA Act.”

Mr Lukwago said they initially wanted to have separate ordinances for boda bodas, buses, and taxis but eventually agreed to consolidate it into one, but government with Ms Jenifer Musisi as the then executive director of KCCA changed positions suddenly

“Ms Jennifer Musisi unilaterally, arbitrarily and illegally came up with a fee of Shs120,000 to be levied on each matatu. Matatu operators went to court to challenge that decision which was never sanctioned by KCCA and they won the case. But at that time, even the bus operators were not paying and after three years they went to State House where monthly fees were scrap by the President and figures agreed upon,”  he said.

Mr Lukwago said that with bus parks being owned by private individuals another problem of legality arises.

“If you purport to charge a park user fee as government over a property which you do not own, that is an illegality or double taxation. Even collecting the money by URA is illegal since KCCA is not an agent of URA, whoever purports to collect funds on behalf of KCCA is working outside the law,” Mr Lukwago said.

He added: “Yes, we need to collect revenue but these must be well structured within the law, if they want a streamlined levy, let them go back to Cabinet, make a law to regulate transport countrywide and have a national legislation made by Parliament.”