The bodaboda industry is the most recent mode of public transport in Uganda. It started with bicycles at the Uganda-Kenya border hence, the name bodaboda.
It is a popular means of transport because it is cheap compared to the other forms of motorised transport, easy to manoeuvre where roads are impassable to motor vehicles, and carries passengers from door to door as the culture of walking is not typical of Ugandans.
Bodabodas offer employment to thousands of youth and adults in the rural and urban centres and have greatly improved their standard of living. Its setback is the safety element to the riders and other road users.
This is largely because the industry is not regulated despite having the laws governing their operations. Enforcement by Police is restricted to what is provided for in the regulations.
However, this is not all that it takes to have the bodaboda industry streamlined for security and safety purposes. Several attempts have been made by key stakeholders to streamline the bodaboda industry but for various reasons, the exercise has never been concluded.
With the current state of anarchy in which the industry is operating, security is being compromised. Bodaboda riders are joining this mushrooming industry every day and they are being infiltrated by thugs who terrorise both the public and fellow riders.
Several crimes have been associated with these cyclists. These include snatching of bags, robberies, rape, murders, surveillance by criminals, riots and being used by terrorists.
Other problems associated with this industry include increased traffic congestion and use of un-registered motorcycles attributed to importation of motorcycles spare parts, which are later re-assembled, flouting of road traffic regulations, disorganised leadership often leading to extortion.
There is a glaring absence of organised leadership which should be a channel of communication for efficient management and control of the operators.
In the Kampala central business district (CBD), there is absence of gazetted parking areas and lanes for them.
Some critics of this industry contend that there is perceived political patronage, where political actors often intervene in their affairs leading to low levels of compliance with statutory requirements.
Others have observed the uncontrolled use of two stroke engine motorcycles, which pollute the environment.
The cost of acquiring motorcycle safety gear appears to be high and prohibitive.
As a result of the above challenges, majority of boda-boda operators continue to frequently get involved in numerous crashes often leading to death and injuries. For example, from January to June, over 290 bodaboda riders and 190 bodaboda passengers have died from road traffic crashes. Many people have been seriously injured by these bodaboda road traffic crashes.
Surprisingly, the number of bodabodas operating in the country is not known. There are also no measures in place to control their surging numbers and no clear policies and guidelines to streamline the importation and first registration of motorcycles in the country.
Most bodabodas on the roads use either fake or multiple registration plates. Some even do not have registration plates. Absence of uniforms for the riders has made it very difficult to identify or apprehend them for noncompliance of regulations and monitor their respective areas of operation.
Measures that could streamline this industry include:
Conducting a countrywide census to determine their total number with a view of limiting their uncontrolled operations.
De-register all of them and issue new unique front and rear registration number plates for easy identification.
Review permit fees for motorcycles to increase compliance. Currently, the fees appear prohibitive and discourage acquisition and motivates riders to resort to fake licences.
Identify areas of operation and their dedicated lanes as well as creation of a databank for all operators in the country.
All riders should wear uniforms with clear identification tags for easy monitoring and enforcement.
The importation of two-stroke engine motorcycles should be banned. Rather, four-stroke engine motorcycles whose levels of emission are internationally acceptable should be imported.
Taxes on motorcycle safety gear should be waived to promote their usage and safety on the road as well as enhanced road safety education.
Writer is the Senior Commissioner of Police, Traffic and Road Safety.