By Denis Jjuuko

Kampala is probably the only city in the world where you look on either side several times before crossing a one-way street! You cannot tell where a boda boda will come from and ferry you down. It is even said that the biggest number of accident victims at Mulago Hospital’s casualty ward are a result of boda bodas. They follow no rules and don’t seem aware of any traffic laws that govern the country. In most cases, Traffic Police haplessly looks at them as they break the law.

The Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) seemed to have tried and failed. Boda boda associations led by criminals with godfathers in security agencies had taken over the business. Influential politicians fearing to lose votes in the city opposed every single effort to regulate the boda boda sector. Then something happened thanks to technology.

Some entrepreneurs saw an opportunity in all this chaos and created a mobile app. As we speak today, the boda boda riders that are using apps to get customers are very professional. They don’t ride like they were just ferried in from some village and given a motorcycle to ride in a heavy vehicular traffic city like Kampala. The bodas using Safe Boda, Taxify and Uber apps don’t ride with reckless abandon like their colleagues who aren’t. They don’t jump traffic lights. They don’t ride at unacceptable speeds like a teenager trying to impress the most beautiful belle in the neighborhood and usually don’t go on telling you one unsolicited story after another. They don’t go around telling rumours about who owns what in the city or whose husband is dating whose wife. They concentrate on their job and they are very affordable. Where an ordinary boda charges Shs5,000, those with apps charge a quarter of that.

And most importantly, they have two helmets. One for themselves; and another for the passenger. Before you use the passenger helmet, they give you a clean new cap similar to a shower cap to cover your head for hygiene purposes. Both helmets have the same number that matches the one on the reflector jacket of the rider. The name of the rider is also written on the reflector jacket.

Due to the nature of my work and given the parking limitations in Kampala, I use boda bodas sometimes and I only mainly nowadays use those that are available on the app. Sometimes I even give them money to take it to some people I am paying. They are cheaper than mobile money and I also know that if I send one of them, there is a way to track him. I also know a lot of people who are using these boda boda apps. The boda boda riders with apps tell me that they make more money using apps because instead of fighting for customers at stages, people simply request them and go pick them. For example, when they drop a passanger in Munyonyo from Kampala, they just ‘hung around’ and a passenger will make a request. So the return trip is most likely to have a customer.

Because they earn more money than other riders who aren’t on these apps, they ensure that they ride professionally because that way, they will get a good rating when they are terminating the trip. A five star rating increases their standing with the app owners and I guess more business. I think if the ratings are always low, then you can be removed from the app. Of course those who aren’t on the apps complain that these tech empowered riders are undercutting them. We heard this before when Uber for cars launched in many city across all over the world. Technology will disrupt every single business.

Anyway, boda boda mobile apps must be reducing the number of accidents given that Ugandans have embraced the use of helmets without anybody forcing them to and riders being ‘forced’ by technology to obey traffic laws. Today, there is an increasing number of passengers on boda bodas using helmets that a year ago. Just observe while in traffic how many boda boda passengers today have helmets.

However, the biggest contribution of these boda boda mobile apps is the professionalization of the sector and KCCA must jump on this opportunity right now. There are more people embracing these boda bodas mobile apps both as passengers and riders. And there won’t be any noise including from politicians if KCCA asked every boda boda rider in Kampala to have a passenger helmet, a reflector jacket with a name of the rider and the stage on which they operate. Entrepreneurship has solved this problem for them.

Some of the boda boda association criminal bosses with godfathers in security agencies are now in prison and have no influence whatsoever to oppose this anymore. KCCA must pounce now as they have a golden opportunity than ever to re-orgainise the two-wheeler transport sector. And of course there is no election soon, so the politicians will keep away.

The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.

*Photo of a Boda Boda rider and his passanger along Yusuf Lule Rod in Kampala.