By Denis Jjuuko
It is not news anymore that Jennifer Musisi Ssemakula has thrown in the towel as Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Executive Director. Ssemakula is leaving Kampala better than she found it. There is better infrastructure and the city is relatively clean. Her reason for leaving what many consider a dream job is lack of political support and funding.
I don’t think there will be any problem finding her replacement. A country of 40 million people cannot fail to replace anybody in a public office. So whoever will be taking over the mantle, there is a lot of work to be done regardless of what Ssemakula and her team have achieved.
One of the major issues that Ssemakula tried and failed is public transport. During her reign, Pioneer buses were launched. They were not funded by KCCA as they were privately owned. And for the first time in Uganda, one would find an orderly group of people queuing at the City Square to board these buses. However, the buses had many issues and I think were at one stage impounded by the Uganda Revenue Authority for failure to meet their tax obligations. Some returned on the roads while others remained parked around Namboole. I am not sure how many of these buses are still operational today.
Of course the buses were small carrying only 62 passengers but they were a good start. What KCCA needed to do was to encourage and support transport entrepreneurs to scale them up. Instead of importing 14-seat vans, the entrepreneurs would have been encouraged to buy buses that carry 90 passengers. The KCCA doesn’t need much funding for this. It just needs to encourage people to invest in the buses instead of vans.
There is a huge market for public transport in Kampala because the majority of people who work and live in the city walk to work. It is less than 20% who use any form of motorized transport. The reason the 80% of the city’s population walk to work is not because they are mindful of their health. It is because they cannot afford the rates. Taxi fares in Kampala are erratic. Rates can be increased at anytime without any warning.
A good public transport system would encourage an introduction of rates that are standard. For example, one could purchase a daily, weekly, or monthly card and as long as it is valid, one could be able to move with ease across the city. Same rates regardless of the distance. The entrepreneurs would make more money because these would be pre-paid cards. That would mean that the buses don’t have to wait to fill up passengers like it is the norm today. A bus would be moving according to a time schedule whether it is full or not. If you are off duty or wake up sick and therefore can’t go to work, the bus company would still make money because you already paid.
And because the charge is not based on distance rather on a network of bus routes, you wouldn’t mind paying because it would be so cheap. Imagine if you pay Shs50,000 per a month. That would translate to Shs1,667 per a day and you could move from Mukono to Entebbe and back on that same rate. Today, using public transport for the same return journey, you would pay Shs10,000 or more depending on the time of the day.
With affordable and reliable transport, most people who drive to work would abandon their cars. At least I would. That would save me a lot of money but it would also rid Kampala of the traffic nightmare it finds itself in today. Just look out of your window during traffic, on average, private cars carry only two people. So one bus that carries 90 people would replace 6.4 taxis (vans) and 45 cars off Kampala’s roads. And a bus wouldn’t just take 90 people because as some hop off, others jump in. So we are talking about 200 people or more by a single bus per a one-way trip.
Since there is no political will for these things that even led Ssemakula abandon her high profile job, KCCA should not enforce this by blocking taxis from accessing the city. Taxis should be left to operate without any interference. Otherwise the politicians will frustrate the bus entrepreneurs. The taxi guys will simply find themselves out of the city and operating in suburbs where buses won’t be able to go. So taxis will pick up people from their residences and deliver them to the main roads where buses would pick them up to Kampala. That way there will be no loss of jobs and most importantly for politicians, votes. Actually, NRM might win Kampala votes if they did this. People would have more money in their pockets saved on transport to spend on other things. There would be more jobs as buses won’t necessarily replace taxis but get them out of the city’s major roads.
The economy would also stop losing USD800 million every year because of traffic jams. An affordable well thought out public transport is a win-win for all.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org
*Internet photo of Jennifer Musisi Ssemakula