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Confusion, Frustration Reign as Uganda’s Public Transport Resumes Operation

A boy sits on a bag at the old taxi park in Kampala, Uganda, on June 4, 2020, the first day of the reopening of public transport.

Public transport and taxi service resumed Thursday in Uganda, nearly three months after they were halted to control the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. New restrictions and regulations, mainly on taxis, however, have left many Kampala residents without a ride.

Tempers grew short Thursday at a Kampala taxi park as drivers, passengers and security personnel dealt with the new restrictions.

The park, which normally has more than 300 vehicles, had just 15, leaving hundreds of people unable to get to where they wanted to go.

Kampala traffic police commander Norman Musinga was checking on whether the few drivers present were freshly registered with the City Council and had their driving permits in order, a requirement for getting back on the road.

“Where is the manager?" he asked. "Sir, drive your car and leave the stage and go to Natete," he told one driver. "Have you heard? Don’t load from here anymore. You have the right documents, but you’ve parked at the wrong place.”

The registration requirement has angered taxi drivers, who say they were not given enough time to register or adequate instructions on how to do so. Others say they are not familiar with new traffic routes for public transport out of the city center.

Also, every vehicle is allowed to have only seven passengers, including the driver and conductor.

Drivers feel stuck

Kasirye Muhammed, who said he has been driving taxis for 16 years, said the new regulations were unfair and oppressive. But taxi drivers have to comply with them, because this is their only means of income.

A woman and a child wait for a taxi at the old taxi park in Kampala, Uganda, on June 4, 2020, the first day of the reopening of public transport.
A woman and a child wait for a taxi at the old taxi park in Kampala, Uganda, on June 4, 2020, the first day of the reopening of public transport.

He said, “The president told us to get back on the road and work; we haven’t come in bad faith. Look around — people are traveling to Kamuli, others are going to Jinja and others to Masaka. What will they do at curfew time? So many people who have been in difficult situations at home, with no food and money, have an opportunity to return where they belong and take care of their families. They are here stranded in the park, like useless people.”

The Kampala Capital City Authority said it used the lockdown period to improve the city infrastructure and all drivers must adhere to the new regulations.

Peter Kaujju, the KCCA spokesperson, said the city was taking steps to make taxis easier to use and, above all, safer.

“We are saying they should return better organized, better coordinated and well-regulated," he said. "So we are now issuing route numbers for every passenger service vehicle in the city. So we have had to register them. But also, safety. We are doing all this to ensure that the lives of the traveling public are not at a risk anymore, especially of accidents.”

Kaujju said the city was registering thousands of taxi drivers who would soon be on the road.

Passengers stranded

But the shortage Thursday left hundreds of passengers stranded. Mbabazi Joselyn arrived at the taxi park early in the morning, intending to travel to Masindi in southwestern Uganda. She quickly noticed that prices had doubled, and she was still waiting at lunchtime for a vehicle.

“The transport costs have gone so high," she said. "They charged us 15,000 shillings [$4] from Mityana. Yet previously we would pay either 7,000 [$2] or 5,000 shillings [$1.30]. Yet we are here and don’t know whether we shall go or not.”

The Kampala Capital City Authority maintains that only registered drivers will be allowed back on the road. If the city has its way, both drivers and passengers will have to adjust to the new normal.