Government grounds 90 Link buses

Buses park at the Link Bus Terminal in Kisenyi, Kampala on May 11, 2022. PHOTO / ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • The decision that comes three days to schools reopening, follows the Wednesday accident in which a Kampala-bound Link Bus crashed outside Fort Portal City, killing 21 passengers.

The government yesterday grounded 90 buses of Link Bus Company after one crashed on Wednesday outside Fort Portal City, killing 21 people, 20 of them on the spot.

Preliminary police findings suggest the driver, Big Daddy, was speeding on a slope and lost control after overtaking a trailer at high speed at a bend.

The bus smashed roadside guardrails, ploughed through a tea shed before somersaulting multiple times deep inside a tea plantation.

Big Daddy died in the mishap pronounced the worst in the 19-year history of the transport company.

 Works State minister Musa Ecweru, alongside senior traffic police officers, visited the accident scene yesterday as inquiries into the cause of the accident entered the second day.

Motor vehicle inspectors examined the wreckage of the bus, took statements from survivors and witnesses and abandoned initial plans to question the driver after it emerged that he perished in the crash.

Among the dead were three members of the same family in Bundibugyo, where the bus originated on the fateful trip, a graduand headed for graduation at Nkozi University, a health worker, Tooro palace official, and a registrar at the Mountain of the Moon University.

Following consultations with different stakeholders, minister Ecweru said the government had drawn the hammer on the bus operator.

“It’s no longer a secret [that] we have suspended [the operating] licence of Link Bus [Company] because we want during [ongoing] investigations our teams to … look at the whole fleet of the buses in the company to see if they are mechanically sound. If we find out that this (tragic accident) was a unique case, we shall put them back on road,” he said.

Minister Ecweru said halting Link Bus operations is to enable due diligence to be done on the fleet and prevent future fatal crashes.  The transport service gap created by the freeze, he said, will be covered by other bus companies until investigations are concluded.

The decision, three days to nationwide reopening of schools, follows the Wednesday accident.

Link Buses operates on routes from Kampala City to Kasese, Masindi, Hoima, Fort Portal, Bwera, Bundibugyo and Kaiso Tonya, suggesting an abrupt halt to its operations towards start of second school term on Monday is likely to present travel crisis.

Already passengers at different Link Bus terminals in Fort Portal, Bundibugyo and Hoima were stranded yesterday with no transport alternative.

Ms Zubeda Namatovu, an inspector at Link Bus, found nursing a colleague at Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital, said the suspension of the company operations was “unfair” because other buses in the fleet were not involved, while other companies whose buses have registered accidents continue to work.

“It’s not Link Bus that [is] first [to ever] cause an accident … [the decision is] not fair at all and it will affect many travellers. [May be the] suspension could be for only two days…,” she said.

In Fort Portal, at around 7am yesterday, passengers who had come to the bus terminal found the offices closed.

Mr Edward Akankwasa, the manager Baby Coaches at Fort Portal terminal, said passengers were by yesterday still in fear and many cancelled their bookings.

He said the suspension of Link Bus company increased passenger volumes which they could not readily absorb.

“Link Bus had about 30 buses that work daily on Fort Portal route and their passengers had to come to us as an alternative, but as Baby Coaches, we have only six buses which couldn’t accommodate all the passengers. So, some had to cancel their journey or board taxis,” he explained.

He said the Fort Portal-Kampala transport fare has remained unchanged at Shs30,000.

At Kampala taxi stage in Fort Portal City, taxi drivers said the suspension of Link Bus has not resulted in more passengers for them.

“We thought that with the Link Bus not operating, we would experience an increase in the number of customers, but this hasn’t happened. We think that may be people have feared to travel or they have decided to use the other bus companies” said Mr James Bemera, a taxi driver at Kampala stage.

In Kakumiro District, the Link Bus office attendant, Mr Sunday Eden, yesterday said they had refunded monies of all booked passengers following the suspension of their operations.

‘‘We had several bookings from our customers on Wednesday, but after getting communication from our bosses about suspending our operations, we refunded the money to our customers,” he said.

He added: ‘‘The suspension has inconvenienced our customers because they were used to travelling with our company bus and they are now being forced to look for another means which may be somehow costly.’’

Mr Mark Kwarigira, who was travelling to Kampala from Kakumiro town, said the bus levy was cost-friendly.

‘‘I had got used to travelling with Link Bus, but now I have to use a taxi. I was paying Shs20,000 from Kakumiro to Kampala and I have been told to pay Shs25,000 in a commuter taxi,’’ he said.

Ms Janet Basemera, a dealer in salon products, said: “We had got relief after the coming of Link Bus to this side and now suspending it means that the taxi operators will overcharge us.”

“We were using the bus to avoid the extra money charged for the same journey,’’ he said.

Reported by Alex Ashaba, Irene Kirabo & Alex Tumuhimbise