The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: The Long Shot At Bringing Order in Public Transport

The year 2013 started with the same mess that defines public transport; buses dropping commuters half-way, and conductors hurling insults at passengers.

Passengers enter an Omni-bus at MINIJUST bus stop.

But despite the numerous problems, there is hope that public transport in Kigali is on a path to a sustainable solution.

"We want responsible companies to manage the transport sector," the Mayor of the City of Kigali (CoK), Fidele Ndayisaba, said recently. He was announcing three companies that won a five-year tender to operate public transport in the city.

They are Rwanda Federation of Public Transport Cooperatives (RFTC), Kigali Bus Services (KBS) and Royal Express.

The CoK designated four separate zones where the trio will be operating from.

RFTC, which has the biggest fleet of buses and mini-buses won the third and fourth zones connecting the city centre, Nyabugogo to Kimironko, Gatsata and Nyamirambo and their suburbs.

Royal Express operates the route that connects the city-Nyabugogo to Kicukiro and suburbs, while KBC, whose fleet is mainly composed of big buses, connects the city/Nyabugogo to Kabeza, Kabuga, Kanombe, Kicukiro and their suburbs.

The contract

According to the deal, the three companies are supposed to pick and drop off passengers to and from the main and secondary roads, within their respective zones.

It was planned that passengers do not spend more than five minutes at a bus stop during the morning and evening rush hours.

Though many people welcomed the move, some city dwellers complained about the long queues that are still observed, especially during rush hours.

The issue of long queues and delays on a bus stage was also observed by the inspectors of the new system in a report they filed early this month.

Jean-Claude Rurangwa, the head of transport in CoK, said: "On top of other anomalies, companies still let down travellers. You still find passengers parked at a bus stop for over 15 minutes during rush hours."

This, he said, is an indication that the movement of the buses within a company is not yet streamlined.

The three months grace period given to the operators to streamline the operations elapsed on November 30.

According to the contract, the companies that failed to beat that deadline are supposed to be reprimanded.

For every anomaly, a company loses between 10-20 points. When a company loses a total of 100 points, it is fined Rwf1 million, while a more serious error would lead to termination of the contract.

A part from what the inspection teams discover during their routine operations, passengers can report any abuse by dialing toll-free lines 3988 and 3260 for RURA (sector regulators) and CoK, respectively.

"When it is about excess fare exchanged, we oblige the company to pay back the client and apologise to them," said Rurangwa.

The authorities said the city still has a shortage of 200 buses. The companies were, therefore, required to purchase at least half this number by the end of 2013 to satisfy the 200,000 passengers in the city.

"We do not expect any more excuses next year," Rurangwa said.

The demise of 'twegerane'

The new system couldn't go without a victim. The City of Kigali is home to hundreds of people who have invested in public transport, either as individuals or cooperatives.

These are allowed to work with the three contracted companies on a sub-contractual basis, which the three companies find rational, because in the first place, they do not have the required number of buses to fully serve the city commuters.

Charles Ngarambe, the executive chair of KBS, told this paper: "It would be quite selfish to operate alone, while other people in the transport business are redundant. We need more vehicles to meet the demand."

However, companies like Camel and Gasabo who lost the tender to ply the city routes opted for upcountry routes.

But those who lost out completely are people who had invested in the small omnibuses, popularly known as Twegerane.

The predominantly 18-seat vans have largely been replaced by 25-30 seat mini-buses.

Under the reforms, the Twegerane were relegated to secondary roads, which owners say fetch little dividends, compared to what they were making before.

Eric Kaneza, a driver, said he could make an average of Rwf45,000 daily from operating a Twegerane, but can now only get a fraction of this because of the slow business on the secondary roads, especially during the off-peak hours.

He said he has since abandoned his dream of building in Kigali, unless he lands another job.

Generally, though, most people around the city are optimistic that the issue of transport will be solved at least by the end of 2014.

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