One of the major differences between air and road transport is security precautions taken by the former.
Air transportation is a delicate business with trained and experienced crews a prerequisite not because it expensive to travel by air and many of those who fly are people of some class in society but the industry demands such standards.
Road transport on the other hand kills more people every year and despite the efforts of the Traffic Police there are loops that need to be plugged.
One of the safety precautionary measures employed by air transport operators is the experience of a pilot measured in what is referred to as flying hours and the type and capacity of aero plane he or she is licensed to fly.
The more flying hours a pilot accumulates under his belt the more senior he/she becomes.
Road transport used to have such measures; before an individual was licensed to drive a vehicle he/she must have been of a given age. Change of class from one automobile category to another required a certain number years of driving experience.
A bus driver needed no less than ten years of motoring experience understandably considering the number of passengers that is entrusted to him or her.
It was believed that such a person is mature, considerate and most importantly responsible. Consequently most bus drivers were gray bearded men who would give way at pedestrian crossings, they would drive carefully and would tell when a vehicle develops a mechanical problem.
It is not unusual to find a bus driver in his lower twenties driving buses in Kigali and the whole of Rwanda. You can tell such Drivers by watching “Coaster” buses as they drive by.
They drive as if the devil is chasing them, they enjoy to hear the tires screech against the tarmac, it is pleasure to them to break at a high speed leaving the least space between their vehicle and the one ahead of them, it is pure thrill to see passengers knee-jerked as the vehicle swerves from one side of the lane to another and they enjoy listening to the sound of the vehicle as they rave at the maximum.
Such drivers hoot with the vehicle horns at pedestrians, they hoot at fellow drivers, they hoot when irritated, they hoot when happy, they hoot to get attention and hoot to scare other road users.
They play music on car radios at the highest decibels even when passengers disapprove.
It is not hard to understand why those drivers behave the way they do though. Many of them start washing vehicles at washing bays.
Many people do not have the patience to wait as the vehicles are washed so they go to the nearest bar or go to do other things but they leave behind the car keys in case the vehicle should be moved from one position to another.
In the absence of the car owners, the people who wash sit in, turn, change, push and pull some things and at the end of six months they can drive cars.
Soon they are driving cars and before you know they are driving buses entrusted with the lives of twenty two persons; many of whom are fathers and mothers and therefore breadwinners for whole families, in the African sense.
Such people want the world to know that they have changed; they no longer wash cars, they have authority so they hoot even when they are in the wrong, they have no regard for other road users because they think the world mistreated them and it their time to “revenge” and the passengers should not complain over loud music because they (drivers) are in charge of vehicles. Who issues driving permits to such people? What happened to requirement of experience of a certain number of years for an individual to drive a bus?
A recent ride in one of Kigali Bus Service (KBS) made me think how wonderful driving in Kigali and the whole of Rwanda might have been had all bus owners valued their vehicles and passengers.
The driver, an old grey bearded Muslim man was the embodiment of a perfect driver.
For the length of the journey the man never hooted the horn of the vehicle; not even once despite the fact that it was rush hour with many people headed home after work. He was so respectful of other road users; I never saw him lose temper.
The man was calm and collected when other youthful drivers hooted and shouted through the windows of their vehicle.
It finally occurred to me that those who set limits on the class and type of vehicle and individual permitted to drive putting into consideration the age of the person in question knew what they were doing.
The old man had no one to impress, he had nothing to prove, he valued his job, his employer and the vehicle he drove and most probably had a family to feed and support. He was the embodiment of an old hand that every bus driver in whose hand dozens of passengers’ lives is entrusted.