By Innocent Anguyo, Grace Amme, Lawrence Mulondo, Clare Muhindo, Juliet Waiswa and Jeff Lule
KAMPALA taxi operators this morning resumed operations after the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Gen Kale Kayihura dissolved the Taxi Parks/Stages Coordinating Committee (TAPSCOM), the city taxi governing body accused of harassing motorists.
The disbandment of TAPSCOM, an initiative of KCCA follows a strike by city taxi operators under their umbrella body, the National Union of Drivers, Cyclists and Allied Workers (NUDCAW) that on Monday paralysed transport in the city.
The striking operators had vowed to strike until TAPSCOM was dissolved, on grounds that the officials of the taxi governing body were imposing illegal charges and harassing motorists. They also accused NUDCAW of illegally clamping their cars.
The striking operators also alleged that TAPSCOM was an illegal body whose leadership did not represent all stakeholders in the transport industry.
Kayihura, workers MP Sam Lyomoki, Kampala metropolitan police commander Andrew Felix Kaweesi and other top ranking government officials on Monday met members of TAPSCOM and NUDCAW at Police headquarters in Naguru, in a bid to reconcile the warring bodies.
The six hour meeting eventually resolved that TAPSCOM would be reconstituted to include all the other stakeholders in the public transport sector including motorist, passengers and owners of public service vehicles.
Kayihura called for election of executive of the reconstituted taxi governing body within a month. He ordered KCCA to work with Electoral Commission in conducting the election of the executive of the taxi managing body, in light of stemming irregularities.
The hatred between members TAPSCOM and those of NUDCAW was so glaring that their members on Monday sat at different areas at police headquarters, vowing never to intermingle. Members of opposing bodies also threatened each other with violence, occasionally exchanging insults.
It was not business as usual in Kampala on Monday as scenes of residents walking to work characterized city roads.
Commuter taxis were not operating, following a strike by the drivers and touts under their umbrella body, National Union of Drivers, Cyclists and Allied Workers (NUDCAW).
Bodabodas were the preferred mode of transport for much of Monday. Photo by Eddie Ssejjoba
The taxi operators announced the strike last week, on grounds that they were being harassed and overtaxed by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
Operators who defied the strike saw their vehicles damaged by their rowdy colleagues who traversed the city on motorcycles. The windows of ten commuter taxis were subsequently smashed. A police vehicle with registration number UP 3166 was also damaged.
The damaged taxis had registration numbers UAK 721C, UAU 481X, UAR 230M, UAR 212J, UAV 398A, UAM 649B, UAV 042T and UAQ 570G. Two other damaged taxis were not identified by press time.
Godfrey Walakira, the secretary for drivers in the new taxi park said the taxis were hit by people who did not want the taxi drivers to work and comply with the strike.
“The unknown attackers moved in pairs on bodabodas,” Walakira said.
Most of the commuter taxis were destroyed in Kalitunsi, Bukesa, Wakaliga, Wandegeya and Nateete city suburbs.
Twenty nine people were arrested for allegedly taking advantage of the strike to wreak havoc in the city. Most of them were arrested in Makindye, Kawempe and Rubaga divisions.
Eleven of the suspects are being detained at Central Police Station, and the rest are held at Kawempe police station as investigations intensify.
Kampala Central Police Chief James Ruhweza identified the suspects as Abdallah Mubiru, Ismael Emero, Julius Mpanga, Richard Luyinda, James Ssebugo, Moses Wabejja, Abdul Mustapha and Godfrey Muhairwe.
The others are Kamada Lugombya, William Basajja, Charles Mawanda, Faridah Nantongo, Doreen Nampeewo, Grace Kinoni, Herald Malize, Charles Mugisha, Stephen Kaddu, James Abyoona, and Lauben Twesigomwe.
Despite heavy police deployment around the city, several cars were damaged in isolated cases of violence. Photo by Eddie Ssejjoba.
Ruhweza said the suspect would be charged with malicious damage and disrupting flow of traffic.
By midday on Monday, taxi operations in the city had normalized, save for the fares which remained high.
In several city suburbs, residents were stranded during the early morning hours. Scenes of passengers waiting for public means of transport were common across the city.
“I had to wait for a taxi for over 45 minutes but when it eventually came, I could not get a seat because people were fighting for them. Eventually, I used a taxi but had to pay sh3, 000 more than I usually did,” explained one Kisige, a resident of Namugongo.
There were a few scuffles at some taxi stops as passengers had to struggle for seats on the few commuter taxis that whose operators had defied the strike.
However, a seat on such taxis came at a higher price, as operators took advantage of the shortage of public service vehicles to hike fares.
“They told me to give sh10, 000 but I was not a fool to do so because I usually spent sh2, 000. I eventually walked to work,” said Rosette Nankabirwa, a resident of Naalya.
Passengers from some areas had to opt for boda bodas and private vehicles because taxis were not operating until midmorning hours. Makindye, Mbarara, Busaabala, Nsambya Hospital, Najjera, Lukuli, Masaka, Munyonyo are some of the stages which never had taxis.
Transport fares for taxis to the city center were also raised. For example, Jinja road (sh500 to sh2, 000), Mukono (sh2, 000 to sh3, 000), Namasuba (sh2, 500 to 3,000), Ntinda (sh1, 000 to sh2, 000), Nansana (sh1, 500 to 3,000), and Nakawa (sh5, 00 to sh2, 000).
Bodaboda riders and private vehicle owners cash in
Whereas some boda boda riders joined the strike, others too took advantage of the situation to charge exorbitantly high fares. Passengers were forced to part with thrice what they usually would.
One Henry, a resident of Najjera of had to part with sh10, 000 as bodaboda fare from his home to Jinja road. Contrary to the usual Sh5, 000 as fare from Ntinda to the city Centre, Niwabiine Asaf paid Sh10, 000.
Owners of private vehicles also cashed in on the scarcity of commuter taxis. Along many city routes, passengers opted for private vehicles, though they charged higher than taxis.