A fortnight ago, Business Times published a story about the grievances of public transport users in the City of Kigali, especially where commuters are made to wait for up to an hour for buses.
Though the public transport service providers hired by the city authority blame the problem on infrastructure challenges, the sector regulator, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA), thinks otherwise. In fact, RURA has faulted the operators for poor transport management.
Kigali Bus Services (KBS), Rwanda Federation of Transport Co-operatives (RFTC) and Royal Express were in 2013 awarded a five-year deal to provide public city transport under the new Kigali Transportation Master Plan. The plan seeks to improve city transport, easing commuters’ movements in and around the city.
Prior to the signing of the deal with the three firms, public transport in the city was characterised by long delays and long queues, in which people waited for over an hour during peak hours. However, little seems to have changed compared to how the situation was two years ago.
Emmanuel Asaba Katabarwa, the head of transport department at Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA), told Business Times, that besides the insufficient buses on some routes of Kigali city, transporters are failing to maximise their available fleet to serve the public better. He said the average waiting period for a bus in Kigali is15 minutes. “But the target is only five minutes,” he said, noting that operators must respect regulations on the intervals between buses.
A mini-survey conducted by this newspaper around the city last week discovered that commuters wait in queues for 20 to 30 minutes to board a bus.
Réné Ishimwe, a student, who commutes from Kacyiru to Kimihurura every week day, said he leaves home early in order to be at school in time, saying he always waits for between 30 and an hour to board a bus.
Operators ignore guidelines
Regulations require operators to work from 5am to 11pm, with bus intervals of five minutes during peak hours, and 15 minutes during off-peak hours on trunk routes. For feeder and inter-zonal routes, the spacing between buses is 15 minutes during peak hours, and 30 minutes during off-peak. The peak hours are from 6.30am to 8am and from 5.30pm to 8pm.
Katabarwa said RURA’s inspection has found that the current spacing between buses varies from two to 25 minutes across the city.
Business Times’ survey found that during peak hours, five buses operating on the same route (downtown-Gikondo and downtown-Kimironko) parked at downtown terminal after 20 minutes without any single bus appearing there and the situation is worse during off peak hours.
Katabarwa said RURA was forced to penalise some of the service providers last month for failure to adhere to bus interval guidelines.
Public transporters blame traffic jam
Emmanuel Ngabo, the KBS operations manager, however, said they respect bus interval guidelines, arguing that this benefits them, too. “We lose money if our buses get closer to each other because they will not get enough passengers. We have appealed to the city authority to create dedicated bus lanes to solve this problem,” he said.
Ngabo said KBS boasts a total fleet of 180 vehicles, including 80 buses with capacity to transport 70 people each, 25 medium buses that carry 40 people, 50 coasters and 25 omnibuses, which operate on feeder routes.
On his part, Col. (Rtd) Ludovic Twahirwa Dodo, the chairperson of RFTC, blamed the failure to adhere to bus interval rules on traffic jam during peak hours and poor fare collection system.
“There is always heavy traffic jam during peak hours, but our drivers are, to some extent, to blame as they collect fares when passengers disembark, causing delays. However, we plan to start using an automatic fare collection system by the next month which we expect to solve the problem,” he said. He explained that the three firms providing public transport in the city are harmonising the payment system to allow a commuter to use one smartcard across the three firms.
Dodo said RFTC will add 80 big buses to its fleet in three months, adding they will keep on increasing the fleet whenever demand increases.
RFTC is the only firm that does not have any big bus. It is currently operating a fleet of 734, including coasters and omnibuses.
Katabarwa said RURA had asked the three firms to increase their fleet, saying city transport demand has doubled in the past two years.
“We estimated 250,000 commuters daily in 2013, but they are now at 500,000. So, the fleet is insufficient...we wanted only big buses on some routes, but they still use small buses,” he said.
Dr Alphonse NKurunziza, a specialist in urban transport, told Business Times that public transport woes in many developing countries arise from the fact that the sector is not valued in these countries compared to the developed world.
“Public transport should be given priority if one is to deal with its challenges. This is what happens in developed countries, but in developing countries, people find a privilege in travelling in private cars and public transport is considered an alternative for the poor,” he said.
Dr Nkurunziza, who happens to be the city engineer, however, said queuing for commuter buses is a global phenomenon, arguing passengers have to wait for buses, not the reverse.
However, he said, according to the international standards on public transport, a passenger should wait for a maximum of 10 minutes for a bus during peak hours. He said public transport in developed countries faces few challenges because it is serviced by Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in cities, while buses, like the ones operating in Kigali, operate on feeder routes. BRT is a bus-based mass transit system which generally has specialised design, services and infrastructure to ease people’s mobility at the lower cost.
Dr Nkurunziza observed that the city is not well served, noting that passengers still walk longer distances to the nearest bus stop contrary to the standard maximum distance of 0.5km.