Urban planner Tamale Kiggundu talks about the collapse of Pioneer Easy Bus and how to improve public transport in Uganda.
Tamale Kiggundu (pictured below left) is an urban planner and lecturer in the department of architecture at Makerere University. Christopher Bendana talked to him about the collapse of Pioneer Easy Bus and how to improve public transport in Uganda.
Pioneer buses are off the road and commuter taxis have used this chance to increase their fares. Passengers want cheap means of transport. What should be done?
The collapse of Pioneer is a bigger problem than what people think. The Government has, for a long time, neglected the public transport sector. It has been managed informally. The collapse shows that the environment in which Pioneer was operating was not conducive.true
There are a myriad of problems; from the traffic jam, macro-economic stability, inflation and high interest rates to lack of competent personnel. The Government should come up with a policy on public transport to guide investors, especially on how to mobilise capital.
But investors can go to banks and get capital.
Pioneer Easy Bus got a loan, but the issue of loans is tricky. The interest rate is high and there are also macro-economic issues like inflation. All these affect loans as a source of capital. I think Pioneer collapsed because there was no clear and viable financing mechanism. Buses require a lot of investment capital, but Pioneer was tightly regulated, especially on the fares.
Apart from financing, what else do you think compounded Pioneer’s problems?
The bus company was operating in a market economy, where prices should be determined by supply and demand. It was supposed to charge a fixed fare, while its competitors charged their own prices. I believe this was unfair to them.
Also, the condition by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), stipulating that the fares should be revised after a year, was wrong. Fares should be revised according to market conditions. For instance, once fuel prices go up, mini-buses increase their fares. Buses should also be allowed to do the same.
Then what needs to be done?
There is need to integrate the transport system to allow buses to operate in areas where they have a comparative advantage. Buses work better in high density areas such as Hong Kong, which has 301 people per hectare, compared to Kampala, which has 49 per hectare.
The general practice elsewhere is to give them separate lanes to improve their competitiveness. All these work on the assumption that once they are on the road, people will use them. Experience, however, shows that people must be forced to use public transport through transport demand management measures.
Which are those measures?
The authorities have to levy a congestion fee on single occupancy vehicles entering the city. hey can also increase the parking charges in the central business district or remove parking space. Some areas in the central business district can be made car-free zones, where only high density vehicles are allowed in.
How can the integrated system work when KCCA is planning to abolish boda boda in the city?
I view boda boda and taxis as an innovation because their emergence is due to demand. There was a service deficiency. Killing them is not a good idea. They should be regulated and left to supplement the service provided by buses because they also have a comparative advantage.
There are areas where buses cannot reach due to narrow roads. KCCA may work on reducing the number of boda boda cyclists, but this must be done gradually. Small numbers are easy to regulate.
But part of Pioneer Easy Bus’ problem was the failure to honour its tax obligations with KCCA and the Uganda Revenue Authority.
The arrears should be cancelled. KCCA should be lenient because Pioneer Easy Bus is offering a service, which should have been the work of the authority. Pioneer should be viewed as a partner.
Likewise, Uganda Revenue Authority should also be lenient. Some URA money is used by the Government to put up transport infrastructure like shelter, which Pioneer built using its own money.
What is the way forward?
KCCA should set up a directorate of public transport, planning, management and regulation. Since we need personnel to run the public transport sector, universities should be helped to start specific courses on transport and logistics at degree level and work with government in carrying our research.
The Government should also come with capacity building. It can ask for technical assistance from countries like China, where the company bought its buses, and train competent drivers and other personnel who can multi-task.
Any advice to Pioneer Easy Bus?
They need to diversify. They can join the long distance route and tour and travel business, build terminals in the city suburbs and create mini-towns around the terminals with businesses like car parking, banking and transit shops. You cannot put all your eggs in one basket.
Any last word?
The Kampala metropolitan physical planning authority should be created to liaise with the town councils in Mukono, Wakiso and others to help integrate public transport issues. The Government can do more for public transport, including abolition of import tax on buses and building shelters and terminals.
Abandon cars, use buses