The Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the Ministry of Works and Transport have been attempting to reform Kampala’s motorcycle taxi service, known locally as boda bodas, for years. While implementing change has proven difficult, they have received an unexpected boost from the private sector.
When it comes to regulating the chaotic streets of Kampala, police officers and government officials have their work cut out for them. Nearly 80,000 bodas weave in and out of Kampala’s congested streets every day. Police officers say they regularly feel overwhelmed.
The KCCA instituted a number of reforms to equip boda drivers with helmets, registration numbers and uniforms. However, they are coming up against boda associations, and disagreements over fees and obligations have led to delays.
Yet the government is finding help in the private sector with the advent of the Safe Boda organization.
Its aim is to provide safe, reliable service while cutting down on injuries. Drivers are equipped with helmets for themselves and passengers, first aid training provided by the Red Cross, basic boda maintenance and a traffic course taught by police.
Ricky Thompson, one of the founders and a long-time boda driver, explains the necessity for privatized safety measures. “Lots of people are getting involved in road accidents because the bodas you already find don’t go to schools, they just bought their bodas and started doing the business," he said. "So they have no idea what the road looks like and what they are supposed to take care of when they’re on the road. So basically the police comes in and tells them… what they’re going to face on the street… which is very very important because most accidents are caused as a result of you not knowing what you’re supposed to do in the roundabout, who is supposed to give way where…these are some of the methods we use to build a strong community.”
Boda accidents are so common that at Mulago, a major hospital in Kampala, 60 percent of the budget is used to treat boda accidents. Of those who enter the hospital with a head injury from a boda accident, 50 percent die.
Making safe transport marketable might have the impact needed to regulate the industry. Boda drivers often face the stigma of being untrustworthy and dangerous. By giving drivers emblazoned vests and bright helmets, Safe Boda drivers are seen as an elite class of drivers.
Alastair Sussock, another co-founder at Safe Boda, explains how fighting this stigma can also ease unemployment.
“The boda industry is very much a result of lack of employment opportunities for 18-35 year olds in Uganda…It’s a great job because it provides cash flow every single day…So the boda industry represents a pretty good job opportunity for young men," explained Sussock. "And that’s very important, but still it comes with a stigma of being an unworthy job, and we’re obviously trying to change that.”
The KCCA and Ministry of Transport say they welcome private sector development and hope that a focus on safety will drive down healthcare costs, while paving the way for future reforms.