All city taxis will be assigned specific routes as they resume their operations on June 4, 2020, the Minister for Kampala Metropolitan Affairs, Ms Betty Amongi has said.
The minister told journalists at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala on Thursday that they have designed routes for each taxi operating within the Kampala metropolitan area. This means that before the taxis return to the city, all operators will be expected to report to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Offices to be assigned parks and stages.
Ms Amongi says that after registration and assignment of routes, the drivers will pick their route charts from the Ministry of Works. The route charts shall last until December 31, 2020, before a permanent chart is issued.
The arrangement is in line with the new guidelines for public transport in Kampala which were jointly drafted by KCCA, the Ministries of Kampala Affairs and Works and Transport Ministry, and approved by the cabinet on Monday.
"Beginning tomorrow May 29, 2020, all taxi operators should report to KCCA where you will be assigned the park, stages and the route where you will be operating. So please, we do not want stampede on June 4, 2020," Ms Amongi said.
Many youth in the city who used to work as taxi drivers, touts/conductors and boda boda riders have resorted to indoor gambling following the suspension of public transport over Covid-19.
In a random survey conducted in selected places in Nakawa and Makindye divisions, Daily Monitor found many groups of youth playing cards for money in corridors of buildings and secluded corners of dilapidated houses to evade security personnel.
Mr Paul Ikote, a former taxi conductor at Kitintale Stage on Port Bell Road, said they used to earn between Shs15,000 and Shs20,000 a day from taxi revenue. He said he has resorted to playing cards to earn a living for family’s survival.
“For a person to be allowed to play a fee is charged ranging from Shs2,000 to Shs10,000 depending one’s capacity to offer so whoever wins takes all the money the group has contributed. That is how we survive in the lockdown time,” Mr Ikote said.
Mr Denis Olweny, a former boda boda operator in Kireka, said he plays a gambling Ludo game at night but said security forces always arrest and beat them.
“I used to get more than Shs30,000 a day from my boda boda work but all that’s now over. I have a family to feed, so I resorted to gambling,” he said. Mr Geoffrey Anguyo, another youth who used to work at Luzira stage, said many of his colleagues have taken to gambling to survive.
Mr Herbert Burora, the Resident City Commissioner of Nakawa Division, warned youth against gambling, saying they face arrest.
“They should wait patiently as government distributes food to them. This situation is not permanent and will soon be brought under control instead of breaking the law,” he said.
Mr William Azuwai, a former boda boda rider at Bugolobi stage, said government should have allowed them to work up to 2pm.
“I am only here with my wife and do not have children but banning boda boda riding has made life hard for us. It was the only way of making money and to make matters worse, I cannot go back to the village in West Nile as there is also a lockdown on public transport,” he said.
Kampala- A month ago, Mulindwa Ali Ganaafa, a student at Kampala International University (KIU), stopped a taxi outside the university gate in Kansanga, a city suburb, at around 8.30pm.
Ganaafa asked whether it was heading to Old Taxi Park from where he would board another that heads to Kawempe, where he resides. The taxi tout, commonly known as a conductor, answered in the affirmative.
In the taxi were about five other passengers and he was offered a seat next to the conductor.
When they reached at the stage near Clock Tower, the two other passengers; an expectant woman and a breastfeeding mother, disembarked. Ganaafa remained inside the taxi with two other men, who occupied the back seats.
On taking a closer look, he realised the other passengers behind had frail looks and seemingly intoxicated.
“I became worried. I changed the sitting posture so that I could see all the passengers. I tried to switch on the inside light but it was faulty and I noticed something was wrong,” he recounts.
Ganaafa says the driver then parked in a dark spot on Ben Kiwanuka Street. In a blink of an eye, the taxi was surrounded by other goons who punched him as they robbed him clean.
“I lost the wallet which had Shs170,000, a university ID and a National ID. My phone was not spared either. The taxi immediately drove off and I did not get chance to notice the number plate. I left the scene bleeding from the mouth,” he explains.
In a related incident, Abdul Tumwesigye, a blogger, survived being robbed in a taxi he boarded at Equatorial Mall on Kampala Road.
Tumwesigye entered the taxi after he heard the tout calling passengers going to Mulago and Kyebando, Nsooba Central.
“I stay in Mulago and when I heard the conductor calling passengers going to Mulago, I did not bother to ask because I had often boarded from that stage. I was offered the front seat and I comfortably sat,” he says.
As the taxi approached Wandegeya traffic lights, the tout asked Tumwesigye to tighten the door. As he concentrated on locking the door, his fellow passenger in the co-driver’s seat started checking his pockets.
“I hit him with an elbow. I tried to open the door to move out but it was being held by the conductor. Lucky enough, a traffic officer parked his motorcycle a few metres ahead of us. I made an alarm, calling for his rescue,” he recalls.
Tumwesigye says the conductor hurriedly opened the door and he was pushed out by the passenger who was checking his wallet. They drove very fast and moves towards the Makerere-Nakulabye Road.
“I almost hit my head on a sign post. I got some scratches in the palms since I used a lot of energy to prevent my head from being hit on the sigh post,” he says.
Tumwesigye did not lose anything because he was wearing a jean with front pockets where he had kept his wallet and phone.
“From that day, I swore never to board taxis at Equatorial Mall, especially during night hours. I no longer board taxis that offer me the front seat in late evening hours,” Tumwesigye says.
Kampala Metropolitan Police (KMP) spokesperson Luke Owoyesigyire confirms the above tricks used by thugs to rob passengers in taxis.
“We have arrested and prosecuted many thugs who use taxis to rob passengers. In all these cases, we have noticed that victims are always offered the front seat. They passenger is then told to tighten the door which they intentionally opened to switch his or her mind so that they can rob his items,” Mr Owoyesigyire said.
He also lists others ranging from use of ropes, which they tie around the passenger’s neck, to using chloroform.
Mr Mustafa Mayambala, the leader of taxi drivers in Kampala, says robberies in taxis started around 1998 and increased in early 2000s when some people bought new taxis purposely to use them in robberies. He recollects that thugs could rob passengers and afterwards hide vehicles in compounds of powerful people in security and government.
“In early 2000s, new taxis could be used to rob passengers since most people prefer boarding taxis in good condition. We got information from their allies and we tipped off the police. But police have found it difficult to fight the vice because vehicles used in such criminality are owned by well-connected people,” Mr Mayambala says.
Although Mr Owoyesigyire does not have statistics on the number of goons who have been apprehended and prosecuted over taxi robberies, he says such cases were common last year, especially in areas of Ntinda and Luzira in Nakawa Division and Nansana Municipality in Wakiso District.
“These cases can be anywhere because these thugs keep changing operation venues to avoid being noticed by victims. The cases we have handled show thugs rob passengers in taxis during lunch time hours and evening time, especially between 7pm and 9pm,” he says.
A detective at KMP records desk says more than 37 cases of in taxi robberies were recorded in 2017, of which 118 suspects were arrested and prosecuted in courts of law.
The detective cites one case of a woman who was robbed at the Nakawa junction in a taxi she boarded at Kiyembe stage adjacent Jinja Road Police Station.
“The lady boarded the taxi at Kiyembe and she was offered the front seat. When they reached at Spear Motors junction, a thug, disguising as a conductor, tied a rope around her neck and the others robbed all her belongings,” the detective says.
The woman reported the case at Jinja Road Police Station and Flying Squad Operatives tracked the taxi and impounded it five days later.
“There were cases where passengers were made unconscious and woke up dumped in a bush. All their property had been stolen. Thugs use fake number plates, which they often replace after committing crime,” Mr Owoyesigyire says.
Mr Mayambala adds that they have discovered some of the thugs are part-time businessmen and students.
“We are sometimes surprised to find the people robbing passengers are people who are operating stalls in markets during day time but resort to robbery in the night hours. Some are students and we have arrested many, with the help of police and their accomplices,” he says.
Mr Owoyesigyire advises passengers to be suspicious of vehicles that give you the front seat. He also cautions passengers to always record the vehicle number plate or take its photo before boarding.
Mr Mayambala accuses courts of often giving lighter sentences to culprits of taxi robberies.
Further, the minister noted that all operators of public transport are expected to have personal protective equipment like a face mask and provide handwashing facilities for passengers to wash their hands and a temperature gun to measure the temperature of passengers before boarding.
"Each passenger service vehicle is expected to have hand washing facilities and all passengers must wear masks. Any vehicle found carrying passengers without mask will loses their license to operate within Kampala Metropolitan area," she added.
She said taxis will park two meters away from each other while in the parks while touting has been banned as part of a presidential directive. The taxis will also be given route colours and numbers. The colours to be used are black, red, yellow and green shall be used. She said this will help in tracking vehicles especially during the COVID-19 period where they might need to trace for contacts.
Government through the ministry of Kampala has proposed strict guidelines for boda-boda and taxi operations in the city when the virus-induced lockdown is finally lifted.
The revelation was made by Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago while addressing journalists at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon.
Quoting the framework paper sent to him by Ms Benny Namugwanya Bugembe, the State Minister for Kampala, Mr Lukwago told journalists that Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the Ministry of Works and Transport have already issued guidelines to enforce the new transport changes.
According to the guidelines, Mr Lukwago said, all boda-boda motorcycles shall operate under digital companies (use of apps like Safe Boda, Uber, Bolt among others). This, he said, will be done in the first week after lifting the coronavirus induced lockdown.
He also revealed that the technocrats mapped out boda-boda stages and came up with 970 stages. But the technocrats, he revealed, are planning to phase out 385 boda stages.
The framework paper, Mr Lukwago noted, boda-bodas will only be allowed to operate up to 7pm (curfew time) for 21 days until all of them are registered. Also, there will be boda-boda free zones in the city although he didn't offer more details.
Before the lockdown, Kampala had over 200,000 boda-boda drivers zipping around the capital, yet the industry remains largely unregulated.
About passenger service vehicles, Mr Lukwago revealed that the KCCA and the Ministry of Works are planning to ban taxis in the city after the lockdown for three weeks to first register with the ministry before they are cleared to operate again.
After 42 days, government will then allow only registered taxis to operate in the city but under strict measures.
KCCA's head of Public and Corporate Affairs, Mr Peter Kaujju said: "What I can confirm to you is that there was a meeting. We are basically mooting plans to improve mobility of taxis and boda-bodas and streamline the entire transport in the city. These are just proposals and Cabinet will make a final decision. There shouldn't be cause for alarm."
However, Mr Lukwago said that the proposed guidelines are intended to entirely kick out taxi drivers and boda-bodas from the city.
He also faulted the technocrats for coming up with laws without engaging city leaders and transport stakeholders.
"This is not fair at all beacause we already have boda-boda and taxi ordinances in place but government has instead overlooked them. How do you come up with such policies when you haven't engaged leaders of taxis and boda-bodas! Should we really be discussing such yet Kampala is literally suffering with the impact of Covid-19?" Mr Lukwago asked.
It is what movies are made of. It is just before 10pm on October 1. About 20 of us stand in wait and no taxi shows up for a moment. When one shows up, it has only one or two spaces. The numbers swell further as more people stream through the main gate of Uganda Management Institute (UMI) on Jinja Road after the evening classes, which end at 9pm.
After waiting for long, some get impatient and wave down motor bikes. My friend decides to take a motorbike too; it is getting late and cold. I cannot take a motorbike to Mukono, so, I wait on.
A private omnibus, whose owner probably wants to make a few bucks off the stranded passengers, pulls up and calls out for passengers going to Mukono. I won’t take the ride. Stories abound of people being robbed clean in such vehicles.
A few years ago, for instance, a friend who was late for work took a taxi heading to Ntinda. On reaching her destination somewhere between Ntinda and Bukoto, she asked to alight.
The driver pulled up but the door could not open. It took minutes as she and the conductor fumbled to open it. In the meantime, her fellow “passenger” seated between her and the driver was emptying her handbag of money.
When the door finally opened, the conductor courteously apologised for wasting her time and said as a way of making it up to her, he wouldn’t be taking the fare from her. Later, she found out that her money had been stolen.
I have heard of other similar stories. But I still feel safer in a public service vehicle than in a private one belonging to a stranger.
Finally a taxi
After waiting a little longer, a taxi which the operators say is headed to Mukono pulls up. All the seats are occupied, save for the co-driver’s seat. “Shs2,000 to Mukono,” the conductor announces. I get on board.
It has been a long day and I feel tired. I rest my laptop bag on my lap and sink into the seat, hoping to get home in 40 minutes or so.
A few metres into the journey, the front door flings open. I react to close it.
The driver brakes, almost instantly. The conductor jumps out to help, wondering aloud why the door is “misbehaving”. He observes that it had been doing so all evening. I pay attention for about less than a minute, trying to close the door.
I suspect that something is afoot. I reach for my pockets to ensure that my phones are intact. I also check out my wallet. They are all in place. I also have my bag on my lap. The conductor continues to fidget with the door as I look away.
The conductor suddenly says the door cannot be fixed and I should shift to a rear seat. Almost immediately, the driver asks him about my destination. “He is going to Mukono,” the conductor responds.
“I will stop in Nakawa and have that door fixed,” the driver says, “He should use another taxi.” I check my pockets once again to ensure that I have all my belongings. I have my bag and see no reason to open it. I jump out of the taxi in disgust.
I’m gripped with a strange feeling, however. I can’t tell why.
The shocking happens
Another taxi pulls up after a while. It has more space and my favourite back seat is not occupied. I take it up.
Shortly after settling down, I open my bag to put in the newspaper I am carrying in my hands. I see a flat rock in the place of my laptop. My laptop, that little thing which for three years has been an integral part of my life, has turned into a stone!
I am supposed to be sad. So sad. I have lots of material on that laptop. It is a bit old and needs to be replaced. But what about my files in there and the things that money cannot buy?
I know that the thieves will not sell it off for a lot of money and for that they will be a bit disappointed. They should be looking for new expensive laptops. Luckily mine wasn’t. For a while, I take this as consolation.
But then I was supposed to use it later tonight to transcribe an interview I did that evening and is due for use the next morning. I will have to wake up earlier to get to office and do work I had hoped to do at home.
I burst out laughing all the same. It is funny. How has my laptop turned into a stone?
First I inspect the stone. It is flat and smooth, slightly shorter than my Acer type laptop, a little more voluminous and heavier. It is shaped like a laptop.
Using the knowledge of secondary school geography; it is a sedimentary rock with different layers formed after thousands of years of deposition of dead matter.
I carefully slide it below the seat in front me. I call up my friend with whom we had been waiting for the taxi to share the news of my loss. I am still laughing. She is sad and seems to want to fume at me for being ignorant of such tricks.
She tells me that sometime back, taxi operators tried to play the same tricks on her around YMCA in Wandegeya. This is indeed a widespread game.
Target and other tactics
I now know that many people who study at UMI are aware that they are a target of laptop thieves masquerading as taxi operators. One of them told me that some students complained that their laptops and other possessions were stolen in a similar way. The conductor will ask you to help close the door, or the driver will request that you help adjust the driving mirror, or the door fails to open.
In a more bizarre case, I have been told, the operators of a taxi that had picked up people from the UMI gate had turned on their clients and picked all their laptops from them before ordering them out of the taxi. Most of the terrible incidents I heard of after my ordeal happened on Jinja Road.
In one other such incident, a journalist at Monitor Publication, who was also seated in the front, had his laptop grabbed and his tormentors pushed him out as the taxi sped off. Learning of this case made me feel luckier. To give it to the thieves however, they have mastered the psychology of human beings and they apply it to deadly effect. I suppose if they invested their brains into inventing something meaningful they have the capacity to make a big contribution to advancing civilisation.
Another journalist who works for another media house, I was told, left office with a camera and a laptop hoping to complete some work at home. When he opened his bag to retrieve his gadgets he found that they too had turned into stones.
It all makes sense now.
Demystifying the incident
While I fumbled to close the door of the taxi, the “passenger” seated between the driver and I unzipped my bag, removed the laptop and replaced it with a stone.
The driver, the conductor and that “passenger” were part of the plot. I don’t know whether the other 12people in the taxi were involved in the game.
But, as I noted already, the thieves do a smooth and efficient job. It must all have taken less than a minute of absentmindedness on my part for my laptop to turn into a stone.
In the end I can’t even file a case at the police because I didn’t write down the registration number of the taxi. For the first time I admire a colleague who takes down the registration number of whatever taxi he boards. My colleagues at work can’t stop laughing at me after telling them this story. One of them calls me “stone”. I decide dto share this story here if only to cause you to laugh a little.
•The 2013 annual crime report shows among the leading crimes that year were common assaults (14,161), obtaining by false pretences (8,113), thefts of mobile phones (4,409), and thefts of cash (4,388), criminal trespass (4,289), and burglaries (3,846). (By Esther Oluka)
Ms Amongi also listed other issues that taxis will have to fulfil without fail with effect from January 2021. She says taxis will be subjected to compulsory inspection through SGS and payment of Park User fees to KCCA. Amongi says KCCA will directly enforce all the directives without involving taxi Associations that they say are divided.
The KCCA Acting executive director, Mr Andrew Kitaka says they will start designing the parks soon to create the 2-meter distance between taxis. He says to manage the number of taxis; they are working around the clock to find space where taxis can park as they wait to return to the parks.
Passengers feel comfortable boarding taxis that are almost filled, thinking criminals cannot have the guts to attack them in the presence of other travellers.
Ms Noreda Atuhaire, who was travelling on the Nakawa-Ntinda road in Kampala, had the same believe. But she was wrong.
The robbers who steal in taxis were also aware of the passengers’ fears. They cracked their nuts to find ways of giving their victims confidence that the taxi they were boarding was secure.
On 5 May, 2010, when Ms Atuhaire boarded a taxi plying the Kampala-Nakawa-Ntinda route, the robbers had already put in place ways that would give her confidence that she was in a safe taxi.
The thugs had hired a number of women who sat in the taxi to give an impression that it was a safe place for women.
Soon after boarding the taxi, Ms Atuhaire was attacked by the thugs. They robbed her of her property before throwing her out of the taxi.
Police officers were confused when she told them that the taxi had a number of passengers who never bothered to intervene as the crime went on.
Ms Judith Nabakooba, the police deputy political commissar, who was among the officers that handled the case, recalls that they were could hardly believe the story.
“We thought that she had concocted a story to get a police report about her lost property,” Ms Nabakooba recalls.
Police, with the help of taxi operators, carried out an operation and impounded the taxi they suspected was used by the robbers. It was intercepted on the road near Nakawa, a Kampala suburb.
The officers detained the occupants of the car who included Vincent Luwemba, Robert Ssimbwa, Vincent Matovu and Denis Kyambadde. But the women in the taxi were quick to deny any links to the suspects, saying they were just passengers.
“The women were smartly dressed and they looked very innocent. We had believed their story since they also claimed to be victims. But as we were about to let them go, the victim [Ms Atuhaire] came in and identified one as the suspect,” Ms Nabakooba says.
The suspects were all pushed in police cells.
Ms Atuhaire’s case opened to the police a gang and probably new tricks that would have gone on for years without being notice.
Police learnt that the criminals were hiring taxis from genuine operators.
After photographs of the suspects appeared in the newspapers, people claiming to be victims flooded Jinja Road Police Station the next day.
One victim identified Flavia Babirye, one of the suspects, as the one who encouraged her to ensure that the car door was tightly closed as her two mobile phones were being stolen.
Babirye gave up. She admitted to being part of the group that was robbing people in taxis, but said she was also lured into the crime by a friend.
“I was worried about engaging in the crime, but my friend told me that our work would be just to sit in the taxi and pretend that we are passengers as the men robbed the victims. We would get [paid] at least Shs20,000 a day,” Babirye said later.
Ms Christine Wamala, a victim who lost Shs200,000 and other valuables in a taxi around Banda stage on the Kampala-Jinja road, pinpointed Rose Nakamya who she claimed she saw in the taxi before she lost her property.
Babirye’s confirmation left Nakamya, Diana Namagembe, Nashirah Nabisubi, Sarah Lunkuse and Eva Nalubega with no options. They were produced in the Nakawa Chief Magistrate’s Court and charged with simple robbery before they were remanded.
It was eight months later that the Nakawa Chief Magistrate then, Mr Deo Ssejjemba, convicted them and sentenced them to eight months in jail. The suspects pleaded with him for lenience, insisting that the time they spent on remand helped them to reform.
The magistrate accepted their plea and considered their time on remand, which meant that they would be released that same day.
This was the first case of taxi robberies that the State had secured a conviction. With a conviction that was widely publicised, the taxi thugs retreated, at least for then.
How passengers single out a ‘wrong’ taxi
Criminals deal with a situation on a case by case basis.
Flying Squad operatives say if criminals have a stolen bag in which they suspect the victim will automatically know that it was taken before disembarking, they just push the victim out of the taxi.
Such reports prompted many passengers to fear boarding taxis occupied by few male passengers, especially at night.
This being in their minds, the passengers then preferred boarding taxis that were nearly full. And when it came to taxis occupied by women, passengers would quickly fill the vacant seats.
Mr Onyango says taxi thugs are still wreaking havoc in the city but not as active as they were five years ago.
“Even last week, when our Flying Squad team was on their normal routine in Makindye Division [in Kampala], they saw someone struggling to free himself in a taxi. Armed Flying Squad officers stopped the taxi, only to find that he was a victim,” Mr Onyango says.
Three suspects admitted to robbing passengers’ property and by the time police arrested them, they had robbed at least Shs70,000 from passengers.
Mr Onyango says since Utoda’s contract ended, there is no one to regulate taxi operators which has made it impossible for them to track taxis involved in such crimes.
“You find a taxi that commits crimes at night in Luzira operating in Kajjansi during day. The next day the criminals will operate on Bombo Road. It becomes very difficult to track the taxi,” he says.
Earlier tricks used to rob passengers
The taxi thugs started the new trick of hiring people to act as passengers after the public become aware of the faulty-door tricks they were using.
The thugs would hire taxis whose front doors they tampered with, in that it would be difficult for the passengers to lock them.
The criminals would then move around the city centre and whenever they found a passenger, they would tell him or her to sit in the front seat, a place preferred by many passengers because it is convenient to alight and also has fresh air.
When the victim had just settled in the seat near the door, the taxi would start moving. The conductor would then pretend to show concern for the faulty door, saying it was not locked and would swing open and hit other cars.
The victim was then sent into panic and would concentrate on ensuring that the door is locked.
“The more they try and fail to lock the door, the more they lose concentration on their property,” says Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman Patrick Onyango.
The criminals then exploit the confusion to unzip the victims’ bags, and when they are done, the thugs stop the taxi and claim that the door lock has a problem and they cannot continue with the journey. Most victims never immediately know that their items have been stolen.
“In many instances, it is very difficult to find the suspects because many of the victims board taxis before recording its registration number plates. So they just tell us that they were robbed in a taxi without giving us other details,” Mr Onyango says.
"We also don't want to continue with the congestion that has existed around these taxi parks will only be allowed to have vehicles which fit there can at any one time. We don't want roads around the parks to be full of taxis,” he said.
Meanwhile, KCCA says Boda-bodas shall continue operating without passengers and respect curfew time as indicated by the President. The Authority is currently working to gazette Boda-boda stages and Boda-boda free zones.
The authority has listed 970 Boda-boda stages across the three divisions of Kampala. So far, they have approved 585 stages.