Cab drivers cry foul over illegal operators

Cab drivers in the City of Kigali have faulted Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) for failure to act in the face of resurgence in the number of ‘illegal taxi operators’ around the city.
Cabs at City Market in downtown Kigali. (Jean Mugabo)
Cabs at City Market in downtown Kigali. (Jean Mugabo)

Cab drivers in the City of Kigali have faulted Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) for failure to act in the face of resurgence in the number of ‘illegal taxi operators’ around the city.

Unlicensed operators,  locally nicknamed Inyeshyamba (Kinyarwanda word for rebels) drive unmarked cars and do not pay taxes, which is unfair, according to the authorised operators.

Cab drivers claim they have repeatedly complained to the regulators to crack the whip on the illegal operators in vain.

“For instance, early March, this year, we reported 100 cabs to RURA but only four were seized at Gacuriro, in Gisozi Sector,” said Deo Mazimpaka, the chairperson of the union of cab drivers cooperatives in Gasabo District, adding that he would have reported more if action had been taken against those 100 cabs because illegal operators in Gasabo are too many.

Xavier Munyaneza, who holds a similar position in Nyarugenge District, shared Mazimpaka’s concerns, while Jotham Ndayisaba, the chairperson of COCTAKI (cooperative), in Kicukiro District, says he was reluctant to report the illegally operating cabs since no action was taken on his colleagues’ petitions.

“It is now about three months since we notified  RURA about 245 illegal operators in Nyarugenge, but, up to now, no action has been taken to reverse the trend.

‘‘They pose a threat to us because we earn very little from our work,” Munyaneza said.

The operators in both Gasabo and Nyarugenge districts complained to RURA and gave a copy bearing the cabs’ number plates to Rwanda National Police (RNP), Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA), Rwanda Cooperatives Agency (RCA) and the City of Kigali.

The RNP spokesperson, CSP Celestin Twahirwa, told The New Times that it is up to RURA first to deal with problems in the transport sector with Police only intervening when called upon by RURA.

“We are aware of the problem, but when RURA identifies those cars and drivers, they report to Police in order for the latter to intervene,” CSP Twahirwa said.

He added,“This is also a security issue because when a cab is not registered in a cooperative and operates without the official label, it is not easily identified in case of involvement in a crime,” CSP Twahirwa said.

When contacted, Emmanuel Asaba Katabarwa, the head of transport department at RURA, said the regulator always punishes those who flout regulations but they were not many.

Passengers’ hand

“Whenever we find an unpainted car transporting passengers, we impose penalties and, even at the moment, I have some at my office that we have impounded today and they are going to face penalties,” Katabarwa said.

Ironically, operators admit, passengers tend to prefer unpainted taxis – a factor that encourages the illegal practice.

This has left the legal operators to single handedly shoulder the burden of identifying and speaking out against illegal operators.

Cab drivers say that apart from foreigners who hire the labelled cabs mainly for caution, most passengers prefer unlabelled cabs largely because of their (passengers’) pride.

“Passengers tend to prefer illegal operators to us because they use unlabelled taxis and their prices are lower than ours, but if authorities acted against this illegal business, then passengers would have no choice but to use the licensed cars,” said Theogene Ndorimana, the chairperson of a cab drivers cooperative in Nyarugenge District.

But they are not about to go down without a fight.

Munyaneza told The New Times that cab drivers in Kigali have lately opted to form a ‘security’ team to tackle the problem of unlabelled cabs.

“We cannot sit down while illegal operators are doing the work we should be doing and have paid for. We pay taxes, licence fees, parking, meter reader but, after all that, we hardly make a profit.

“So, we want to set up a joint security body comprised of our members in order to tackle the issue ourselves but we ask RURA to support this initiative,” Munyaneza said.

He said “unregistered operators drastically lower transport prices because they operate at no cost. For instance, while we charge a passenger Rwf45, 000 per day, they could reduce up to Rwf15, 000.”

Ndayisaba said that the number of illegal operators is increasing by the day.

While the legally operating cabs are painted with yellow or orange colour, those which operate illicitly look like any other car which is not meant for commercial activities.

However, illegal operators have also increasingly become aggressive and have formed a lobby group to secretly promote their interests, according to Jean Pierre Muhire, a cab driver at City Market, Nyarugenge District.

“Illegal operators have formed a powerful group that works to undermine us and they work day and night. ‘‘When we park where they normally park, they bully us saying that we use fake cabs. And you can’t get a passenger from where they converge,” Muhire added.

Albert Ngabonziza, a colleague to Muhire, made a passionate appeal to RURA for a solution, saying illegal operators are thriving at the expense of the registered cab drivers.

Jean Claude Kabanda, the chairperson of COTAHAMA, the taxi operators association which operates at Kisimenti, Gasabo District, said passengers prefer unlabelled cabs.

“Passengers often come here looking for cabs that are not labelled because its what they prefer. We are left with no work since ours are labelled.’’ Kabanda said.

Another cab driver who preferred anonymity also said that some government institutions also prefer unlabelled cars.

“Before I got my car painted with this yellow strip, I was working for a government institution but when I got it labelled, they terminated my contract,” he said.

Lambert Dusingizemungu, a cab driver in Nyarugenge, said that some big institutions prefer special hire taxis with no label.

“Many big institutions do not allow our labelled cabs to go through their gates and we have to drop off our clients at the gates while unlabelled taxis have full access.

“Our clients don’t like that and next time they opt for unlabelled cabs which can carry them up to their destination,” he said.

Some passengers explained to The New Times why they prefer the unlabelled cabs.

“I cannot hire a cab with yellow paints because everyone will know that I have hired it, but, besides, labelled cabs are not presentable. Imagine going in a yellow-painted cab to meet your girlfriend! It’s as good as using a motorcycle,” said Paul Muhizi, 30, a city resident who regularly uses taxis.

Flora Mutesi, a mother of two, who also uses cabs, said that most of the unlabelled taxis are cleaner and more comfortable and the police do not stop them very often as is the case with the labelled cabs.

Lenient penalties

Even where penalties have been applied, cab drivers claim, they are not harsh enough to deter defaulters.

An illegal operator will hit the road right the day after paying the fine.

“When RURA catches an illegally working cabdriver, he is charged with Rwf70,000 while we are charged with Rwf100,000 when we are caught not using taxi-meters, for example,” Kabanda said.

At least 10 unlabelled taxis were parked at Giporoso in Gasabo when The New Times visited the spot last week.

An illegal cab operator there who preferred anonymity said he cannot seek the operating licence due to various reasons, including rigid and costly procedures.

“I am educated with a Bachelor’s degree and I was using my car in my former job but when the job ended, I decided to use it as a taxi to survive but I can’t afford paying up to Rwf500,000 to join a cooperative, yet passengers do not even like labelled cabs.

“My clients often call me and my car is normally hired for weddings but nobody can hire it when it is labelled,” he said.

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