18 December 2012

Rwanda: Passengers Stranded As Bus Companies Go On Strike

SCORES of travellers were yesterday stranded after drivers of Ugandan based bus companies went on strike to protest 'excessive bribes demanded by the traffic officers'.

Buses are the most popular mode of transport for long distances within and outside Uganda.

One of the busy routes that was affected was the Kampala - Kigali route.

At Nyabugogo bus park, in Kigali, where Kampala bound passengers board, travellers were stranded and after waiting for hours, those who had booked earlier got refunds after being informed that the buses were not going to operate.

At Jaguar Bus Company ,an employee who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, said that traffic and police officers especially in Kabale district were a menace.

Jaguar is one of the most popular companies that have for long plied the Kigali - Kampala route.

He alleged that on top of demanding for bribes, they stop them under unclear circumstances.

However, by press time, sources said the bus company owners were locked in a meeting with government officials to resolve the issue.

Mark Bahati, the Spokesperson of the Uganda Allied Bus owners Association, explained that among the reasons for the strike is fines levied when buses don't run on schedule.

"Due to some challenges such as mechanical breakdowns, the buses travel an hour or so late which leads to their being impounded and being fined," Bahati said.

"We are striking because of the unfair fines we are usually asked to pay and also the fact that sometimes the buses are impounded over petty issues. Our biggest challenge here is corruption, the policemen here [Uganda] will ask for a bribe over any issue, however small it might be," he said.

Bahati added that they held a meeting with Abraham Byandala, Uganda's Transport Minister, and Traffic Police officials, to address the bus owners' concerns.

"There was a rule that that buses should rest at least three times a week. We told them that all we want is that it should be only drivers to rest and not the buses. We agreed on that and all buses should begin operating tomorrow [today]."

Charles Ngarambe, the Chairman of Rwanda Transporters Association, confirmed that talks to end the strike were ongoing.

"The bus companies affected are trying to negotiate with the government of Uganda and we are hoping that their issue will be resolved," he said.

Kenneth Tumuramye, who was among those supposed to travel yesterday morning using Jaguar buses to Uganda said that the bus operators should have warned them prior to the strike so they can find other means.

He, was, however glad that at least they refunded all their transport. Another passenger, who gave her name only as Clarisse, said that the strike had thwarted the business deals she was supposed to transact in Uganda last evening.

The strike affected over 1,000 buses that ply different routes in and outside Uganda.

Additional reporting by Gashegu Muramira in Kampala.

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