"To ease transport, especially to the many who cannot afford motorbikes, we have allowed some coasters (omnibuses) to commute… Two have already begun operations and more will be availed," these were words of Dr Aisa Kirabo Kacira in 2006.
Two years latter coaters are slowly relegating the cargo vans—fondly called twegerane— the ‘fourteen seater commuter taxi’ configured in Africa to passenger vehicles. But day-in-day-out Kigali passengers prefer coasters to twegerane, partly due to the comfort and predictability of fares the owners charge.
Christine Uwimana a student in town says: "I can stretch my legs. The seats are comfortable. Drivers are more professional. Since the coaster advent on the Kimironko route, I stopped using twegerane. "
Col (RTD) Dodo Twahirwa, who heads the commuter taxis association—ATRACO knows coasters are ideal for passengers but hastens to say they are too expensive for many Rwandans. They cost four times more than a twegerane.
"As ATRACO, we have no capacity to buy coasters, this is a big project that we have to study carefully and get loans from banks to fund the acquisition of the coasters," he said.
And most commercial banks in the country are willing to fund the acquisition of assets including coasters through leasing. Has ATRACO approached the banks as an association? These are some of the questions passengers and other stakeholders in the industry.
As of late last year, ATRACO declared they had a fleet of over 850 twegerane, 15 coasters and two big buses. The government-owned paasenger transport company, ONATRACOM, had 22 buses— with seating capacity of 60 passengers. It is reported that other transport companies had 22 coasters, altogether. Most of these commuter vehicles operate within Kigali City.
But these few coasters are already helping to decongest the central business district (CBD) of Kigali, the streets and its environs. Where 3 twegerane used to park, these days it is one coaster that occupies the space.
As ATRACO looks for funds, and the Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency shops around for investors, Kigali City authorities are not seating back. They want to bring sanity in the transport industry, offer best services to residents but maximise revenue collection from the transport sector. One way is the on going construction of parks in all major city suburbs.
"To control traffic in the city, we want to develop Kimironko Taxi Park and be able to use it for taxis coming from the countryside instead of having them (taxis) reaching the city centre," these were words of mayor Kirabo, in 2006.
Today there is a multi–million Kimironko Taxi Park, ready for use. The 3,220 square metres park worth Frw225m has the capacity to accommodate 52 minibuses and 4 buses. A modern administration block constructed on 306 square metres of land and latrine block of 76.6sq are part of the structures in the place.
According to the original plan, this terminal was supposed to have banks, restaurants, forex bureaus and shops but the small city budget could support executing the entire plan. If city authorities had accessed these funds, then many would not be entering Central Kigali business Centre for the services that they would have accessed at Kimironko.
Col. Dodo is upbeat about the completion of Kimironko Taxi Park, saying, it will enhance security for passengers.
But city authorities are not done yet—Kicuciro is also to get a park soon. While another state-of-the-art Kigali Central Taxi Park is being constructed near Kwarubangura Street. It is to replace the former Kigali Central Taxi Park that was closed down by city authorities to allow an investor construct a modern part. When completed, it is hoped that roads will be clearer, not like now when half the road is taken over by hawkers and the twegerane drivers.
But a transport expert advises: ‘taxis and coasters should play complimentary roles. While coasters should operate within the specified radius, twegeranes should be operating outside this radius. And during the transition from twegerane to buses, the two should operate alongside each other until the coaches become many enough to effectively accommodate commuters.