Will demerit-point system bring order to public transport?

Rwanda Utility Regulatory Authority (RURA) is set to issue Driver Vocational Cards, which is designed to keep track of the conduct of public transport drivers.
A public transport bus in downtown Kigali. Nadege Imbabazi.
A public transport bus in downtown Kigali. Nadege Imbabazi.

Rwanda Utility Regulatory Authority (RURA) is set to issue Driver Vocational Cards, which is designed to keep track of the conduct of public transport drivers.

The cards, which will be issued to about 6000 drivers across the country this month, will bear the details of the driver, including the firm that they work for. 

But given the current challenges in public transport and passenger complaints, one can imagine that the change will not be straightforward.

Explaining how the cards will serve its purpose, the head of transport at RURA, Emmanuel Asaba Katabarwa, said on issuance, every driver card will have 100 points.

On every offence committed by a driver, points are taken off the card. When a driver’s card goes below 40 points, they will be suspended from public transport for up to six months.

Prior to the suspension, Asaba said RURA will engage drivers whose points decline over time to find ways to enable them improve their conduct on the roads.

“Between 100 points and 80, that will be considered green and safe. When the points fall between 69 and 50, we will engage a driver to find out what areas they need to improve and how we can fix it. Between 49 and 40 points will be red and will still try to engage them prior to suspension if points go below 40,” he said.

On registration for the cards, drivers were taken through short courses on various aspects, including professional behaviour and first aid.

A spot check by The New Times, last week, revealed that there are still persistent delays of public transport vehicles on the roads, forcing many city dwellers to resort to taxi-motos, especially during peak hours.

Last Wednesday, our reporter visited several bus stops. At the Ministry of Justice bus stop in Kimihurura, at 4.30pm, the stage was devoid of passengers but a number of buses still stopped for minutes in complete disregard of the regulator’s restrictions on stopping unnecessarily.

The reporter boarded a Kimironko-bound bus, and it made multiple stops along the way in search of passengers and no one complained to the driver or conductor.

Most are probably used to it.

The same was repeated across most of the major routes operated by the various companies, which passengers say has become characteristic of the city’s public transport system.

On routes such as Kimisagara, Kagugu, Nyanconga, Magerwa and Gatenga, passengers said the intervals are often over 30 minutes on most days.

On other routes across the city, the intervals of buses, especially during off-peak hours, are rarely adhered to by operators, further rendering the city’s public transport unreliable.

Ordinarily, on major routes, buses are supposed to operate in 15 minutes intervals during off-peak hours and five minutes during peak hours. For intra-zonal (smaller) routes buses are supposed to run at 15 minutes intervals during peak hours and 30 minutes for non-peak hours.

Peak hours are usually between 6:30am to 8:30am and 5pm-8pm.

Efforts in transport management

In 2013, RURA and the City of Kigali awarded three firms five-year contracts to operate public transport in the city. The move to award Kigali Bus Service (KBS), Rwanda Federation of Transport Cooperative (RFTC), and Royal Express was aimed to streamline public transport in line with an October 2012 Cabinet decision.

The firms began operations in designated areas of the four zones identified in the City of Kigali road network.

The authorities aimed at increasing use of public transport in the city to decongest traffic.

However, close to four years since the implementation began, the transport network continues to be marred by challenges, most of which greatly inconvenience passengers.

A section of passengers say they only rely on the buses when not in a hurry as chances of missing out on appointments are high when using the means.

Speaking to drivers, most of whom sought anonymity in order to speak freely, said at times they flout RURA rules to avoid ‘wasting’ resources when the buses are not full while others say they seek to make extra revenue beyond what they report formally to their employer.

This had been blamed on the terms of employment of drivers working for the bus companies where some of them had to meet certain revenue targets.

However, operators said this is no-longer the case and all their drivers have been issued with contracts as is required by RURA.

Rura speaks out

However, Asaba said that about four years into the implementation of the zonal arrangement, most of the initial challenges they set out to tackle have been addressed despite the emerging concerns most of which he said are discipline related.

The implementation of the directive, he said, has seen city commuters almost double, going from about 250,000 a day in 2013 to about 450,000 currently.

“The number of routes more than doubled from 42 to 87 as we wanted them to serve last mile passengers and reduce the distance passengers had to walk before catching a bus,” he told The New Times.

Asaba noted that there is more order among the operators unlike previously when they only plied routes that they considered profitable.

The transformative process also required that operators upgraded from the old small minibuses to better and larger buses with ability to ferry more passengers.

Financial leakages and loans

The three operators used their contracts as guarantees to secure loans to finance their expansion plan, a move some people think partly contributed to some of the challenges currently being experienced due to high debts – whose repayment eats into profitability.

Among the challenges facing operators is high levels of financial leakages, which eat into their revenues, which Asaba said can be managed using the card-based payment system.

These leakages are through drivers, conductors, and workers in the bus parks. This poses a challenge considering that the expansion of the fleet size of most operators was funded through loans which Rwandan banks offer at somewhat high interest rates. The average interest rate is 17 per cent.

Operators respond

Bus operators admitted to some of the shortcomings, saying they were working to rectify them.

Nille Muneza, the Royal Express chief, said they were working to train their drivers to ensure that such conduct is ended.

Muneza said all of the company’s drivers have contracts and a salary, which motivates them on professionalism.

He said the new card system will serve a great deal to improve discipline as drivers will be keen of not losing points, adding that though the employers often point out instances of errant drivers, the card will enforce discipline.

Deo Muvunyi, the administrator of Kigali Bus Service, said their drivers are not given financial targets to meet, hence there is no reason for them to inconvenience passengers on the road.

On whether the transport sector was profitable enough for the operators and if they were financially motivated, Muvunyi said it was profitable and had more potential for returns if the leakages are curbed.

In November last year, RURA appointed an administrator for Kigali Bus Service (KBS) which was found to have flouted contractual obligations and had managerial problems.

Going forward

To further improve the system, Asaba said they were seeking investors to set up a passenger information system which would further make the public transport system more efficient as it would enable passengers know exactly when buses would be at their stops and would also allow for monitoring.

Asaba also called on passengers to launch complaints on buses that break rules to the Police, RURA and the bus management through phone numbers that are displayed in the buses.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

 

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