Is it ‘trial and error’ for new city transport system?

The city transport question was back in the news this week after three firms; Kigali Bus Service, Rwanda Federation of Transport Cooperative and Royal Express won a five-year tender to operate public transport in the city.
Paul Ntambara
Paul Ntambara

The city transport question was back in the news this week after three firms; Kigali Bus Service, Rwanda Federation of Transport Cooperative and Royal Express won a five-year tender to operate public transport in the city.

The deal has generated little excitement from the general public not with the failings that have characterised past interventions to alleviate the messy city transport system. The response has been that of ‘cautious optimism.’

Kigali Bus Service in particular is not new to the controversy surrounding city transport. Only a year ago the company imported a fleet of buses with a promise to modernise city transport. Many fell for the rhetoric including yours truly.

With just a few days on the road, loopholes started to emerge. The buses were not only overloaded but also took ages to reach their destinations. Ventilation was poor. A new name, ‘sauna’ was coined to describe the buses. Many a commuter’s patience was stretched to the limit. As expected, passengers shunned them; soon they were out of business and off the city streets of Kigali.

Kudos to the City of Kigali for not sitting back. Another city transport plan has been charted.

The new plan allows three companies to ply all the city routes. But barely a week after the sealing of the deal, questions are being asked about the viability of the new city transport arrangement.

Analysts well versed with the transport sector portend that by allowing only three companies to operate the city routes under a long five year contract, authorities are edging out other potential providers of city transport services.

This kills competitiveness and the advantages that come with it to the benefit of commuters, so they say.

The capacity for these companies to sufficiently service waits to be seen. Addressing the issue of city transport has mainly been done under a trial and error method. The question on many a commuter’s mind is if this is the ‘magic formula’ that will answer the city transport question.

To this issue I will return.

As the commuter bus services continue to be unreliable, the motorcycle commuter operators popularly known as taxi-moto has come in handy albeit with tragic consequences.

Statistics from the traffic department show that between January and April this year, 368 people were injured while 27 were killed in motor accidents. Statistics also show that 80 percent of all accidents were caused by taxi-motos.

So as commuters sought for alternative quick means to get home, many didn’t get home alive. This is the cost of a dysfunctional city transport system.

The issue of errant taxi-motos has attracted a lot of public outcry. They have flouted almost all the laws in the traffic book and they have gotten away with it. Just recently Police blacklisted 100 taxi-motorcyclists over violation of traffic rules.

Over a year ago, Smart Cover headgears were introduced as a Ministry of Health initiative to prevent people from contracting skin diseases when they share helmets.

The requirement for taxi-moto operators to provide smart covers to their passengers has out rightly been resisted despite calls from the city mayor and the police.

All this and more is a pointer to something terribly wrong with methods of enforcement of traffic regulations and other directives by competent authorities.

But just as the police was waking up to address the thorny issue of errant taxi-motorists, the manner in which the crackdown is conducted leaves a lot to be desired.

There is a video that has gone viral on the internet showing police from a neighbouring country trying to arrest a rider carrying a passenger. The manoeuvres the taxi-motorist makes to evade police arrest are not for the faint hearted to see.

And these are scenes that I have seen play out in different parts of our city as police mount crackdowns on taxi-motorists. The safety of passengers has been totally disregarded. Unfortunate cases of accidents resulting from this cat and mouse game have been reported.

Much as police want to crack a whip on errant taxi-motorists, the safety of passengers should be given first priority.  Motorists, especially taxi-motos should not be allowed to disregard set traffic rules and regulations. Close collaboration between Police and their body, Ferwacotamo should be strengthened.

Restoring sanity on our roads will require more than impounding and fining, regular sensitisation will go a long way in taming the men and women who ‘move our economy.’

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