As the world marks the 5th United Nations global road safety campaign, motorcycle taxi operators in Rwanda are increasingly being faulted for reckless riding, drug and alcohol abuse as well as abetting crime.
In Rwanda, motorcycle taxi, or taxi-moto, is the most popular means of transport because of its flexibility, especially in urban centres where traffic congestion is relatively high.
It is also affordable and can navigate through the poor road network in rural areas with ease.
According to the Federation of Motorcycle Taxi Operators (FERWACOTAMO), there are 45,000 motorcycle taxi operators across the country, with 25,000 based in Kigali.
As more and more people join the industry, it creates stiff competition, prompting many to put in extra hours of work, especially at night to shore up their incomes.
Despite the enormous benefits, the rise in demand for this form of transport has also triggered safety concerns among the general public.
In the recent past the industry has grappled with cases of embezzlement by cooperative leaders as well as claims of being infiltrated by criminals and unlicensed operators.
Yet, efforts to formalise the industry have been undermined by disputes among members, which fuels indiscipline, leading to violation of safety requirements and traffic regulations, hence causing accidents.
According to figures from Rwanda National Police, close to 400 people were involved in motorcycle related accidents between January and March this year. The figure includes fatalities, serious injuries, and slight knocks.
The Commissioner for Traffic road Safety, Commissioner of Police Rafiki Mujiji, said that the fact that the number of victims of motorbike accidents was high prompted RNP to establish a special department dedicated to affairs related to motorcycle taxis.
“Some (motorcycle taxi operators) have been abetting criminal activities and transporting drugs, engaging in illegal merchandise at night,” he said.
They have decided to be the law unto themselves, he added.
These cases, RNP says, are avoidable given that proven solutions to tackle the challenges that have been put in place.
Among these solutions is effective leadership to advance road safety in addition to legal reforms. In addition, cabinet recently passed a new policy on motorcycle transport, aimed at developing the industry.
The theme for the 5th UN Global Road Safety Week: “Leadership for road Safety” acknowledges that stronger leadership at all levels is needed to advance road safety.
Linked to the global theme, the national theme for this week is ‘travel safely, reach safely’.
It highlights that everyone can significantly contribute to road safety.
Mujiji explains that pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and public transporter should be able to use roads without any fear.
“We can behave safely on the road, serve as role models for others, especially young people, and support those who have been affected by road carnage,” he said.
Daniel Ngarambe, the President of FERWACOTAMO, says that the most urgent the requirement is to register all actors in the industry.
He says that his new team should be able to address issues of embezzlement, and encouraged them to collaborate with authorities to curb the indiscipline of rogue members.