Kampala, Uganda | URN | Ducking and balancing between vehicles, motorcycles, and bicycles on the busy roads of Kampala city, remain a thriving means of public transport.
60-year-old John Kakwaya is one of the many commercial bicycle riders in the city.
According to Kakwaya, he started commercial bicycle riding in 1993 before motorcycles came into play.
He notes that besides the business sustaining him throughout the years, it has less accidents.
Kakwaya cannot estimate the number of passengers he carries each day. He however, says he has permanent clients like school children he drops and picks from school and those who entrust him with errands of delivering goods at shops and homes.
Even with this information, Kakwaya declines to reveal his permanent clients on grounds that the world turned untrustworthy to reveal much. He smilingly says he earns enough and has achieved a family that he is able to support.
Suleiman Nkolo, the Chairperson Boda and Bicycle Transporter’s Association Nabweru-Bwaise, says commercial bicycle started in the early 1990s. He observes that although motorcycle Boda bodas have increased, bicycles have not been exited.
However, notes that the membership of their association has dropped from 210 riders to 50 riders. But only 20 actively operate on the stage. Even with the great reduction, Nkolo notes that commercial bicycle transport is in use.
At some of the stages visited by our reporter, the commercial bicycle operators were working side by side with their motorcycle counterparts. However, at Nabweru commercial bicycle operators have distinct stages where they operate from.
Our reporter spent at least 30 minutes at one of the stages and saw about 10 bicycle commercial riders. Another stage had about six commercial riders. Our reporter also saw about seven passengers calling the riders to deliver them to their destinations.
Suleiman Kimera, a commercial bicycle rider in Kalerwe notes that they easily relate with motorcyclists and passengers choose what means to use. He says that even wealthy people sometimes use bicycles Boda bodas based on convenience.
Wasswa Kalema uses commercial bicycle riders each day to connect from Nabweru to Bwaise. He explains that he uses commercial bicycle riders because they are affordable compared to motorcycles.
Besides Nabweru-Bwaise, there are other parts of Kampala that have commercial bicycle operators. They include among others Kalerwe, Kibuye, Namuwongo and along the Northern bypass.
Bashir Ssoko, a commercial bicycle operator in Kibuye explains his day starts early and ends by dark. He earns between Shillings 10,000 to 15,000.
The bicycle cyclists charge between Shillings 500-1,500 for distances that range between 2-4 kilometres. Our reporter took a ride from Clock tower along Queens away to Shoprite at the cost of Shillings 1,000. The rider used the extreme end of the road to avoid fast moving vehicles and occasionally ducked and maneuvered between vehicles.
He explained that whereas other vehicles give way and reduce speed for bicycle riders, trailer drivers don’t, which prompts them to ride fast to get out of their way. The rider found it hard to cross to a convenient spot for parking as he approached Shoprite on Ben Kiwanuka Street because of the huge number of vehicles.
The 2012 Ministry of Lands and Works policy on non-motorized transport provides for dedicated lanes for bicycles as part of the non-motorized transport means.
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“Government will ensure that all new and upgraded urban and national roads include consideration of the needs of bicyclists and include dedicated bicycle lanes when the existing and predicted demands justify this. Government will require the relevant authorities in Kampala and other large urban areas, to plan for through cycle routes between high density residential areas and major places of employment.”
Namirembe road is being transformed into a non-motorized transport area is to give prominence to cyclists and pedestrians, according to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
BICYCLE EVOLUTION IN UGANDA
Introduced in Uganda in 1903 by the colonial government and later to the Buganda Courts as presents, bicycles were originally a mark of prestige providing a better transport option at the courts, replacing the “Emiruno” or stretcher group used to transport chiefs and kings. Later they were acquired by the trading community and became an important tool in the transportation of cash crops like coffee, cotton and tobacco.
“With the introduction of the car, the bicycle was rapidly abandoned by privileged classes and rapidly dropped in status. Its ownership has since been left to the low-income groups especially in rural areas. Kings, Chiefs and the trading community provided role models in society thus reinforced the belief that “the bicycle is a tool for the poor,” says a rider our reporter interviewed.
The bicycle rider notes that while regional and local authorities bear the primary responsibility for detailed planning and implementation of cycling policies, national-level commitment is important in setting the right legal, regulatory and financial framework so that successful implementation of cycling initiatives can take place.
Kampala is a very hilly city, so bicycle taxis could only be used in certain areas, and motorcycle taxis have sprung up to cater for the extra demand. Motorcycles now account for the overwhelming majority of ‘boda boda’ taxis in the city.
Evidently, if decision-makers politicians, policy-makers and urban planners in Uganda use bicycles themselves, they are probably more likely to initiate forward-thinking bike-friendly policies for their constituents.