Despite government efforts to fix hitches in Kigali's public transport system, passengers continue to complain about overloading, mostly during peak hours.
The New Timeshas observed cases of overloading along the Zindiro-Kimironko route, a state of affairs also confirmed by passengers who experienced it in other parts of the city.
Aline Umutoni, a university student and a regular user of the public commuter buses, spoke to The New Times at the Kimironko bus park. She emphasised that the situation is common during morning and evening hours
"Other hours of the day, there is no congestion inside (the buses)," Umutoni told The New Times on Monday as she was waiting for a bus at Kimironko Bus Park at 10:00 AM.
When asked to shed more light on her experience, she said, "Sometimes, it is very hard for the driver to hear passengers from the back when they signal for a stop to disembark."
Epiphanie Nshimiyimana, a mother, said she took a ride on a bus over the weekend and "swore never to use it again."
"I was traveling from Kicukiro to Kinyinya. On the bus I could not breathe properly. I was feeling unbearably dizzy all the way. I have decided that for my own health's sake, I will not travel on these big buses again," she said.
"People often have no option but to get into the overcrowded buses because there is just no other way out. I resolved that I'd rather be late than risk fainting on the bus."
Bus drivers in Kimironko Bus Park declined to comment, saying they required permission from their bosses.
At the bus park, The New Times contacted Traffic Police officers and Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) agents who were going about their work. They refused to comment since they are not authorised to.
However, Senior Superintendent Jean Marie Vianney Ndushabandi, the Traffic and Road Safety spokesperson, said that buses do not overload but rather passengers are not happy with travelling while standing.
Jean Bosco Rutayisire, 56, who also commutes by public bus, said it is very difficult to be in such a crowded bus as drivers allow in many people especially very early in the mornings to the extent that people find it hard to breathe or move.
"Standing is not a problem really but when there are too many people standing, it gets just so unbearable. In the morning rush hour people often have no option but to board because there are very few buses.
"Sometime back, I lost my smartphone on the bus. I did not realise how or when it was taken from my pocket as we were so crowded."
But Ndushabandi said that joint Traffic Police and RURA teams carry out regular random checks in public passenger buses across the country in order to curtail overloading.
"Whoever is doing it [overloading] deliberately will surely be caught and punished accordingly. I cannot deny it could be happening but we do our best to monitor," Ndushabandi said, noting that the charge or fine for every extra passenger is Rwf10, 000.
Another Senior Police officer, who could not speak on record as he was not permitted, told this paper that for the problem of overloading in public passenger vehicles to end, it will take more than the efforts currently put in by traffic police officers.
"Increased awareness is very important. Why should people continue to allow this overloading?", he posed.
Asked what people should do in a situation where there are limited options, for example during peak hours, he said, this lack of options then is the justified battle that everyone - including the ministry in charge of transport, city authorities, and others - should fight, together. The officer noted that there are cases where members of the public call in and alert the police of cases and this is one good way of managing the problem.
Bishop Kihangire, the Managing Director of Jali Transport Company, a subsidiary of Jali Holding Company, which belongs to the Rwanda Federation Transport Cooperative (RFTC), said their big buses have a sitting capacity of 40 and extra standing space for 30 more passengers.
"In the bus terminal, we have inspectors and once 40 people are in the bus it leaves so that it has space for 30 other people to be picked up along the way," he said.
Asked about the reported problem of overloading along their Izindiro-Kimironko route, Kihangire acknowledged that he received similar reports and noted that "we need to put inspectors on our five buses on that road to halt that."
"The challenge we must deal with is our drivers who could exceed capacity when picking passengers along the road."
When passengers are uncomfortable, he said, "it kills our business and we also want to remove this problem."
"If we managed to purge the issue of overloading in bus terminals, we can also stop it along the road where buses pick people."
Eng. Emmanuel Asaba, Head of Transport at RURA, suggested that the public "outcry out there" is mistaken especially since his department has teams that conduct daily inspections.
"Of course it is happening; if there had been no offences, we wouldn't have three teams of inspectors on the road every day. Commuters too should know that whenever there is overloading, inside these buses are fliers with police and RURA numbers to call and report and our mobile team will reach you and stop the bus. We need people to tell us because we can't be everywhere."
Asked what could be done about the perceived shortage of public buses as part of the problem, Asaba disagreed with the opinion that part of the problem is that buses are few during peak hours.
"How come buses are so many during the other hours of the day?"