The absence of appropriate legal mechanisms is a serious challenged to latest attempts by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) and Kigali authorities to fix the city transport system. As a result, the three private investors contracted to manage the transport system cannot be effectively held accountable.
The three companies contacted are Kigali Bus Service (KBS), Rwanda Federation of Transport Co-operative (RFTC), and Royal Express. The transport system in Kigali city has come under pressure as the population increases and more privately-owned vehicles hit the roads.
The new transport system aims to reduce traffic congestion, energy use and pollution, and increase mobility.
It is hoped that an appropriate public transport system for Rwanda will contribute more efficiently to increased access to goods, growth of the national economy, and poverty reduction.
Under the new system, daily working hours for buses start at 5am to 11pm. The buses are supposed to be at the stage at an interval of 5 minutes during peak hours and 15 minutes between each bus during off peak hours.
Transport experts say this is not practical and some are predicting challenges in enforcing the rules. This is not the first time these companies are being involved in urban passenger transport reforms.
In 2012, RURA and Kigali City Council (KCC) engaged KBS and RFTC leadership on a pilot basis to ply designated routes. The transporters never respected the directives and concentrated on busiest routes with many passengers.
At the time, the confusion was blamed on the lack of enforcement mechanisms by the authorities. The Director General of RURA, Regis Gatarayiha, says this time there will teams to monitor the activities of the transporters. "The monitoring team shall report to us those who violate the contract and we have powers to withdraw their licenses," he says.
Gatarayiha sauys the new strategy is in line with the new public transport policy approved by cabinet last year and it is aimed at putting in place a clear and favourable regulatory framework that encourages investment in public transport as a lucrative sector in the City of Kigali.
Investors in the sector say some aspects of the new rules, especially the schedules, are not practicable. "We believe passengers will always delay and we hope their blame will not be shifted to us," explains Nilla Muneza, the Managing Director of Royal Express Ltd.
"We need time to prepare the passengers. There is also the question of traffic jam during peak hours," he adds. The Mayor of Kigali City, Fidel Ndayisaba, says the transport system in Kigali had failed because current transport players are not reliable and some are motivated by profit and not serving Rwandans. "The three investors will be held accountable if transport crisis arise again," says the mayor.
He admits that in the short term, the transport problem might persist as there are shortages of commercial vehicles to satisfy Rwandans. "We need more people to invest in transport industry. Contrary to what some people say that we are chasing a way some taxis owners, we need more of them," Ndayisaba explained.
Figures from RURA indicate that the capacities of available buses for public transportation can only serve 16,800 passengers at a particular time whereas the total demand for public transport is 46,822 passengers. This is not only completely inadequate to provide required services but demand is growing.
The cabinet last year urged RURA to undertake a comprehensive urban public transport system overhaul in cities, starting with Kigali City. This is in line with the policy directives of Vision 2020. RURA constituted a technical committee in 2012 to assess the existing public transport problems and early this year submitted a report outlining the potential policy remedial measures on short, medium and long term basis to the Ministry of Infrastructure.
The technical team was composed of RURA, Rwanda Transport Development Agency(RTDA), City of Kigali, Rwanda Environmental Management Authority(REMA), RTFC, Association Taxi-moto Private Sector Federation (PSF) and Kigali Bus Service (KBS) which solicited opinions from transport industry players about the development of appropriate transport policy and strategies prior to finalising the recommendations.
The team recommended among other things that, operators will have to procure more 185 buses and 350 coasters to meet the demand of passengers.
Transport experts say private players alone cannot provide transport to a growing city like Kigali and they need a government hand.
The private operators are generally not interested in providing bus services to remote rural areas. They say since most of the roads in rural areas are unpaved and inaccessible during rainy seasons, initial investments and operating costs for providing bus services are relatively high.
Most of services in rural areas are provided by ONATRACOM, the sole bus service provider under public management.
As of August 2012, ONATRACOM had 165 vehicles. Out of them 87 were buses having 60 or more passenger capacity and the remaining 78 were coasters with 30 seat capacity. However, due to lack of investment and management problems, 110 vehicles, which represent 70% of the vehicle fleet, were out of service.
Since about 67% of the vehicle fleet is non-operational, current passenger carrying capacity of ONATRACOM is 2,280, which represents only 1.9% of all bus, coaster and minibus capacity. In terms of available capacity of all public transport vehicles, the current seat capacity of ONATRACOM represents only 1.6% of the supply.
In other words, private operators provide about 98% of the total capacity for the operation of public transport services in Rwanda. In an attempt to overcome on-going operational problems of ONATRACOM, the government is working on plans to hire private managers for the company.
Under the plan, it will remain a state-owned company but the private managers will run it as a private business to ensure that it generates profits and meetsthe social mission of reaching the rural remote areas.
The cabinet has already approved about Rwf5.5 billion to support ONATRACOM pay debts and staff salary arrears, and buy new buses and spare parts.
Already, however, the new structure is facing challenges, and the law establishing ONATRACOM might have to be revised to allow it operate semi-autonomously if it is to deliver.
Under the current law, ONATRACOM is obliged to follow all the government procedures while buying services and goods, recruiting and firing staff. This delays the decision making process and is blamed for the failure of ONATRACOM.