BICYCLE TRANSPORT PLAYING CATCH-UP IN KAMPALA
GROUP FIVE AND SIX
Time check is 7:30 PM and it’s Saturday 31 October, 2015. It’s been 20 minutes since I have been standingoutside Equity Bank in Wandegeya waiting for a taxi to ferry me to Kalerwe. Darkness is lingering in the sky and the stinging cold upon my skin seems to point to a heavy downpour later in the night. Different thoughts of what I need to get accomplished are gushing through my mind but there is no glimmer of hope that an empty taxi will come by soon.
All around me are tens of desperate people waiting for the same taxis. As if to calm them, motor cycle riders, often called boda boda riders call out with uniformity of emphasis that they are available to transport those who are in a hurry. The sound from the cars, boda bodas and nearby video shops is like the noon-day gale. Upon inquiring how much fare I would need to part with to Kalerwe on a boda boda, I was told Shs.1, 500. Ordinarily in a taxi, it costs only Shs 500. I decided to opt for the less preferred option for most corporates-the bicycle. A number of cyclists are strategically stationed around the Wandegeya stage waiting to make a few bucks too. This being my maiden bicycle ride in Kampala, I brace myself for a mini adventure.
My cyclist for the evening is Paul Kasaga, a 28 year old who has been in bicycle transportation for one year and two months now. He tells me it is Shs 300 to Kalerwe on a bicycle and that I have to sit firm to avoid falling off in case of any mishap along the way. After nestling on the rather uncomfortable cushion seat at the bicycle rear, we were ready to move. As we moved past raised humps and snaked precariously through jammed cars and haphazard moving motorbikes, I clung to Kasaga like a wet garment, fear getting to grips with me.
“Do not fear. We shall get to Kalerwe safe. The only thing riders need to have is the skill to drive properly which most of us have and people do not know this. Most run for boda bodas and yet most of those riders are very reckless,” Kasaga reassures me.
Our conversation continuously unfolds. I then ask Kasaga if he charges different fares for different weights of people. Laughing coyly, he says,
“No, that is unfair. But I have seen some of my colleagues doing that. If you were a fat person and had gotten one of those, perhaps this journey would have been Shs 500.”
He further highlights the challenges of bicycle transportation in the city, citing lack of protective gear and bicycle lanes; poor attitude of motorists towards cyclists and the reckless driving of motorists.
BICYLE TRANSPORTATION IN KAMPALA
Sarah Nansubuga, a business woman in Kiyembe lives in Seguku, a 45 minutes’ drive from the central business district. In order to beat the 8:30PM work-arrival-time deadline, she leaves home at 6AM every day. Before going to work, she drops off her two children to school. However, Entebbe road, along which Seguku is located, is often times clogged with traffic jam and the only option is to use bicycle transport.
“The jam sometimes forces me to use a bodaboda but these are very costly and dangerous especially during the rush hours. These taxis and bodaboda have no care in the world, they drive very fast, with no bother about the other road users,” Nansubuga tells this paper.
As a solution, Nansubuga bought herself a bicycle which she cycles to nearby areas during the weekend. On the day I met Nansubuga, she was cycling home after shopping in the market. She feels confident that this bicycle will change her life for the better. Her formative years were spent riding bicycles to nearby village centers and this is where she learnt how to cycle. She intends to teach her two sons how to ride too.
“This bicycle is a savior for me because it is very convenient and makes my errands easy to run. We want the relevant authorities to create bicycle rider lanes just as they are doing for pedestrians. This would be great!” concludes Nansubuga as she mounts her bicycle and rides off.
Changing attitudes towards bicycles will take some time in Uganda. This is because many people overwhelmingly view the road as a space for cars and trucks. However, bicycle transportation is slowly gaining momentum, especially in the outskirts of the city such as Bwaise, Kyebando and Salama. On an ordinary day, especially during rush hours, bicycles provide a cheap alternative for passengers travelling short distances. Nonetheless, there is hardly any data on the total amount of bicycles in the country. Thus it is hard to say how different bicycle cyclists and sellers share the market and whether the amount of women riding bicycles is increasing or not.
In a phone interview with Dr. Stephen Kasima, the Director for Traffic in the Uganda Police Force, he said bicycles are categorized under the non-motorized form of transport. He noted that this kind of transport is not covered in the current Traffic and Road Safety Act 1998 because at the time of its enactment, non-motorized transport was not a problem. But now, it poses a big challenge.
“Bicycle riders join the roads carelessly and the motorists also do not respect them. The major cause of accidents on our roads is attributed to the carelessness of both the riders and motoristsThose days bicycles used to have lights but these days they don’t. So even at night, these people ride without reflectors and this is very risky,” Dr. Kasima observes. He adds that the number of deaths resulting from bicycle accidents annually is estimated at 400 including both riders and passengers.
Bicycle transport along Salama road-Photo credit: Nicholas Bamulanzeki
In lieu of this, Kasima notes that the Traffic and Road Safety Act is currently being amended. The amendment, spearheaded by the Ministry of Works and Transport, will include among others, express penalties for offenders and will also require bicycles to have reflectors.
Whilst the poorest make only occasional use of bicycles due to low income and high cost constraints, for many they provide identifiable ways of enhancing income by extending the range and intensity of productive activities. Their greatest impact on the cyclists is through the employment provided.
“I am able to feed my family and have even taken my two children to school out of repairing bicycles. I have been in this trade for the last three years and I am going to establish my own repairing shop soon,” says John Katongole, a bicycle repairer in Katwe.
CYCLISTS SPEAK OUT
Many of the cyclists that we tried to interview were unwilling to talk to us about their experiences and challenges of operating bicycles in the city center. Many however point to the extreme competition that they face from their fellow motor cyclists better known as bodaboda riders who many people prefer as the fastest mode of transport within the city center. They also point to the increasing cost of spare parts to repair their bicycles which have become increasingly expensive as the economy continues to perform poorly, a cost that they are also forced to reflect on to their clients which of course drives them away.
The cyclists are also bitter with KCCA personnel that interferes with their work. They believe that KCAA has failed to fulfill its mandate of repairing the road network within the city which in turn interferes with their especially when it rains. They also blame the media for failing to highlight their plight which they say has been a big disservice to them. We captured their voices:
NYANZI SADDICK, bicycle rider and repairer Kalitunsi stage in Katwe
Some of our fellow traders buy bicycle spares parts from energy center and they sell it to us at a high price. Also, our fellow spare part operators suffer because they can’t make the same amount of money as the ones who sell more expensive parts. Even our customers run away from us because they can’t afford the prices of the spare parts. Additionally, the cost of doing business in this place has become too high. We have to pay a lot of money to the people who operate this stage if we want to continue working and since the economy is not performing very well, we are also affected in some way.
And then you people from the media have not helped at all. You only come here to get information from us so that you can be paid but for us we don’t benefit in anyway. So give me one good reason why I should even help you?
BBOSA LUMU, cyclist
It has just been a month since I started working in the city cycling business but I have not experienced any challenges. However, before I started work, I was warned about thieves who use this work as a disguise. I am told that they masquerade as customers and steal our bicycles from us at gun point. Of course many people concentrate on the bodaboda theft but they don’t know that we are also affected. Again, boda bodas have pushed us out of business. This is because many people prefer motorcycles to our bicycles because they are faster and more efficient. We only get customers who are travelling short distances. On a good day, I make about Shs 20,000. However, on some bad days I leave work with only Shs 5000.
SSONKO KAWEESI, Kalitunsi Stage Manager.
I don’t even understand what you people want from us anymore. We have talked and talked but no avail. This KCCA has done nothing for us. They only come here to confiscate our bicycles because we have not paid their fees, but when it comes to repairing the roads to aid our work, they are nowhere to be seen. The only thing that people have concentrated upon is the bodabodas but no one cares about us.
PLANS IN THE OFFING
According to city authorities, Kampala will soon be welcoming its own bike lane network in the central business district. Walking and cycling account for 50 per cent of the city’s journeys but the roads don’t accommodate them well. Amanda Ngabirano, a lecturer in urban planning at Makerere University and managing director of Goudappel Africa, a land use, traffic and transport consultancy firm, is working with the Kampala Capital City Authority Association (KCCA) on plans for a downtown car-free zone for bicycles, which will start with a pilot onNamirembe road.
Amanda Ngabirano-Net Photo
“People need to be given the space to imagine the possibility of cycling. It shouldn’t be a punishment and once it’s planned for, I’m sure there are many people that want to be like me, cycling to work,” Ngabirano says.
She wants Kampala to mirror the other pioneering cycle cities of the world like Bogota in Colombia, which runs car free Sundays, and The Hague in The Netherlands, which started to experiment with specialized bike lanes in the 1980s.
KCCA’s Jacob Byamukama expects work on the cycle lane to start in December or early January 2016, with construction lasting 12-18 months. He points to the work covering road side drains, already completed, which pose a major safety risks for both cyclists and pedestrians.
Nevertheless contrary to both views, Robert Kalumba, KCCA’s deputy spokesperson says that bicycles are not part of the authority’s plan.
“In fact, these should be left in people’s compounds for play and exercises. We are working to restore the railway system to decongest the city but to also ensure that the low income earners get access to cheap, safe and decent transport in and around the city,” Kalumba tells this newspaper.
In an interview with Eng. John Byabagambi, Uganda’s minister for transport,at Hotel Africana, he said that government requires all urban road designs and related infrastructure such as bridgesto include non-motorized transport. He explained how the needs of pedestrians and cyclists are being incorporated into various city designs. Similarly, government requires that all relevant construction and maintenance contracts should require a non-motorized transport statement explaining how the needs of pedestrians and cyclists should be incorporated into the works.
Bicycle transportation is one of the commonest and most versatile transport means used in rural areas. Bicycles are popular in the eastern and northern regions of the country. Virtually, any load can be carried on a bicycle i.e. charcoal, firewood, jerrycans of beer and water, among others. According to Chelegant Irene, a resident of Kween district, bicycles are mainly used for travel outside the village such as going to a market or for a social visit.
According to a traffic count report conducted by the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG) in Mbale district in 2013, in Nampanga village, the number of bicycles exceeds the number of pedestrians. On the tarmac road of this village which carries between 231 and 323 motor vehicles per day, there is an average of 1.6 bicycles per motor vehicle.
“In Bukisimamu village on the feeder road carrying between three and 15 vehicles per day, there are 6.3 bicycles per motor vehicle. The proportion of bicycle traders could have been even higher if beer traders’ bicycles had not been recorded as personal transport bicycles because they leave without loads,” the report partly reads.
CIVIL SOCIETY’S CONTRIBUTION
The civil society organizations involved in cycling in Uganda are hardly existent. Most prominent is the First African Bicycle Information Office (FABIO), headed by Patrick Kayemba and Richard Kisamaddu. FABIO is working on different new programs, to assist and to promote cycling as the most important means of transport for the poor. These include: bicycle credit scheme and sponsorship, specific projects like the bicycle for peace and bicycle ambulance, raising awareness and research, advocacy and lobbying.
“FABIO has carried out research on the effects of a bicycle in rural Uganda and our lobby activities in Jinja have resulted into the local council to pledge the formation of bicycle lanes,”says Kisamaddu.
In Gulu, the Bicycles Against Poverty (BAP) is using bicycles to increase accessibility to critical resources, facilitate community cooperation, and build financial management skills among low income entrepreneurs. All of BAP’s participants lived in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps for over 10 years, until 2009.
Cyclists in Netherlands-Internet photo
Imagine bicycle paths that wind through parks, along lakes, in educational campuses and off normal roads. This is exactly how it is in the two countries which stand out in cycling: the Netherlands and Denmark. For these two, the bicycle is one of the principal means of travel in cities. A national policy framework and strategy sets out the necessary legal and regulatory instruments for safe and efficient bicycle use. Copenhagen in Denmark aims to become the world's best city to cycle by 2025 and has laid out a strategy to realize this. Over 36 per cent of citizens here cycle to work.
Cincinnati in the US has begun to prioritize walkable communities, or communities that are easily travelled without a car. At the forefront of this effort is a new little known task force called the Cincinnati Bicycle Transportation Project, which is dedicated to improving the nature of both on and off road bicycle facilities around the city.
Brian Cookson, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) President argues, “Cycling is one of the most popular sports in the world, but it’s also a mode of transport for millions, helping to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and keep people healthy,” adding:
“In ten months’ time, the Paris climate talks will provide the final opportunity to plan for a sustainable future: cycling - a truly zero-carbon form of transport - must be part of the solution.”
Non-Motorized Transport (walking and cycling) are the most popular means of transport Uganda. Yet they are also the most unsafe. The Non-Motorized Transport policy attempts to redress this through the achievement of the following objectives: Increase the recognition of walking and cycling in transport, planning, design, and infrastructure provision; provision of safe infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists; resources for cycling being mainstreamed in agencies’ financial planning; and improvement in regulation and enforcement to enhance safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
KCCA’s plan for Kampala transport. Photo: The Monitor
Dr Kasiima notes that safety has three components: enforcement, education, and engineering.
Education is an important task as inexperience and indisciplinepoint to majority problems in urban areas.
“People are illiterate, don't know the traffic rules, and fear the police, For example: a cyclist with 100 kg of posho, riding uphill, jumps off his bike, falls down, and is hit by a car. He doesn’t know the traffic rules,” he says.
Additionally, a lot could be done for safety in the field of planning and engineering. Kasiima says the role of the police lies in advising the government on the placement of signposts, humps, lighting.
Meanwhile, FABIO has also published and disseminated safety tips and measures which include the following;
- Check the condition of your cycle, wear safety helmets and pads before setting off
- Don’t carry heavy luggage on the bicycle
- Wear fluorescent and reflective clothing during the night
- Obey traffic lights traffic signs and road markings
- When riding at night turn on your white light in the front and red light in the rear of your cycle.
- Ride at safe speed
- Keep your hands on the handlebar and feet on the pedal
- Always stay alert keep away from destructions on city roads
- Keep your passenger safe when riding.
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 Kisamaddu.
Kisamaddu 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.
Evidently, if decision-makers politicians, policy-makers and urban planners use bicycles themselves, they are probably more likely to initiate forward-thinking bike-friendly policies for their constituents.