Global Coach’s new bus: Throw away taxis, revolutionise public transport

Author: Gawaya Tegulle. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

‘‘Make public transport attractive, and people will park their cars” 

I’ll always look back and say it took the intervention of a judge to stop me driving everywhere I went. Justice Florence Nakachwa speaks only when it is either absolutely necessary or inevitable, so it’s easy to take her seriously.

It is she that extolled the virtues of using a bus when going for upcountry court. She spoke about the foolishness of a tired lawyer getting on a six or seven-hour journey to attend court, thereby endangering himself and other road users, spending money on fuel unnecessarily, and still not having enough time to prepare for court.

She said it made more sense to sit comfortably, be driven and use that time to catch up on lost sleep and also peruse the case files and prepare to make one’s arguments in court. The problem with talking to judges, even outside court, is that you tend to take their views as a judgment and their suggestions as a court order. I have not driven to upcountry court since and what is more, I have been a passenger of nearly every bus service along the major routes – going north, west and east.

That is how I recently ended up on the newest Global Coach that plies the Kampala-Mbarara axis. My, oh my; the thing is a luxury liner! The interior reminded me of my favourite plane – the elegant Boeing 767. Every seat has air-conditioning and each person has their own USB port for phone-charging. Either side of the bus has just two seats: very soft, velvety reclining affairs that are easy to adjust. Each seat has a foldable table. Seat belts work. Seven or eight video screens. Plenty of leg room; you don’t get tired because you sat for seven hours. And even though the bus was only half-full, when the clock struck 1900hrs, it left the park: time is of essence to this company! I last had such a pleasurable bus ride in Berlin, Germany.

Pedro Gustavo, when mayor of Bogota, the capital of Colombia, is the one who so famously said, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” Ego and other flimsy reasons aside, the middle class will not hesitate to use public transport; but the problem with Uganda is that most of the public transport on offer is so crude that when you use it, you feel insulted – heck, it is an affront to your dignity! 

The lack of customer care, the delays in taking off, the stopping at every opportunity, the lack of sensitivity to clients’ time which may be under pressure, are all huge structural disincentives for serious Ugandans to board buses. And the seats of most buses are not human-friendly: too straight up, no recline possibility, not soft at all, and no leg room. 
And you are squeezed like sardines. You have to endure every bus ride; you can’t wait to reach your destination. Let’s not even discuss the taxis here; because when discussing sinners, you don’t mention the devil himself. Let me just say that the last time I boarded a Kampala-Mbale taxi, I needed four different taxis to reach my destination – about nine hours later. Each taxi would reach somewhere and “sell” you to the next. 

Firstly, therefore, Global Coach must be congratulated on their new coach; this is kind of bus Ugandans deserve – not these funny tumble-down things on the road. Secondly, this nation must revolutionise public transport by establishing a credible body that sets standards and regulates the sector, putting human dignity and safety at the heart of policy. 

Throw taxis off upcountry routes; buses are easier to monitor and to regulate, not to mention being safer. Focus on helping sector players to access credit to get smart buses. Buses must have decent, inviting seats. Avoid stacking too many seats in a bus for the sake of profit; that’s ideological bankruptcy (in President Museveni’s voice). 

Restore speed governors in each bus and have control rooms where each company monitors the speed and progress of its buses. The buses must also go digital. By now big players like Global Coach, Link, Tausi, YY and others should have apps which passengers can download and book trips. Drivers and crew must undergo regular retraining. Throw old, rickety, ramshackle buses off the road. Make public transport attractive, and people will park their cars.

Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda     [email protected]