The Solution to Kampala’s chronic Traffic Jam is remarkably simple

The Solution to Kampala's chronic Traffic Jam is remarkably simple

Allow me start my morning by ranting. This is about something we all almost do everyday which underpins its importance. Kampala’s Public transportation. It sucks to the core.


Yesterday during my usual commute from work, I boarded a taxi from Ntinda to home. The fare as is notoriously​ known for Taxis, unpredictably fluctuates based on factors am yet to understand. So it’s not unusual for passengers to pay twice or sometimes thrice the normal fares.

Yesterday I paid twice as much. But not because of fare fluctuations. Instead the taxi conductor, the chap without an official seat that helps the driver collect money, mistakenly thought I boarded from Kamwokya which is almost twice the distance the actual distance I travelled.

Unfortunately for me, there was no sure way of proving my case to this disgruntled shady guy. When you’re board a taxi, there’s no receipt or any form of record that shows proof of transaction made. You rely on your or taxi conductor’s memory. If the two are out of sync, we can only expect chaos to fellow like was my plight. This has happened to me several times and other passengers as well.

Now I might have overlooked this guy’s short memory in exchange for getting me to my destination safe and in comfort. But too is not usually the case. A taxi has three seats in a row meaning it can accommodate only three people in a row. But these chaps neither care about my safety nor my comfort. It’s common for them to force passengers to seat four people rather than three for the same charge.

It’s not exactly clear how or whether these Taxis are regulated or not. There’s no office or hotline for reporting things like these or bad driving which has become the norm with taxis.

Poor roads

It’s a miracle to find a well constructed, well maintained road anywhere in Kampala let alone upcountry. KCCA has recently upped up their game, but not to acceptable standards. Pot holes are still very much rampant in most roads in Kampala. You kind of have to be a Ninja-driver to properly navigate around these roads. There have cartons drawn in the dailies depicting big happy fish swimming away inside these little lakes in the middle of the road.

It’s funny of course how the cartoonist tickles your childlike imagination but when your car gets knocked or when you fall off a boda boda, it seizes to be funny anymore. It becomes an issue that needs urgent attention from the authorities. Kampala roads are not even designed with pedestrians or cylists in mind. I’ve always harbored the thought or riding to work for a number of reasons; first because it’s healthy. Second it helps me beat the jam at peak hours.

But when I see Taxis using the small pavements reserved for pedestrians, both walking and cycling becomes extremely dangerous.

Traffic jam

Kampala has one of the worst traffic jams in Africa. You don’t have to read a report, you just have to take an evening or morning commute from the city center to any of the suburbs like say Ntinda. It’s super crazy. And I think this stems from the problems I’ve already mentioned; poor infrastructure and poorly regulated public transport system.

Because our nearly unregulated private public transport is a mess, it’s more convenient, cheaper and safer to own a private car for most families. In fact, one of the aspirations of a university graduate is to actually own their own car. This is despite the fact that tax on imported (used) cars is more than 100%. And lets not even talk about fuel prices. Everyone wants to own their own car.

Mathematically, this doesn’t solve the problem. It adds salt to the wound. More cars on the road means putting more constraint on the infrastructure. And with corruption and poor planning, it means once again poor roads. When roads can’t take all the traffic, it means more traffic jam during peak hours. That means less convenience and comfort during commutes. Yet everyone I talk to thinks that owning their own ride will forever save them headache commuting.

Now what?

A good public transport system: The solution to traffic Jam in Kampala is really really simple — a functional public transport system.

Public transport removes a lot of strain put on the public road network because of shared resources. A mini bus is licensed to carry about 29 passengers all seated and about 20 standing. That’s a total of about 50 people. Compare that to a taxi/matatu (Toyota hiace van) takes about 14 people well as personal car takes about 5 although most people drive solos in their cars. And yet the surface areas occupied by all these vehicles are more or less the same.

Here’s a gif that illustrates the math.

Clearly a bus could take up more people and use less space on the road. If 50 people boarded a bus than used their personal cars, that’s enough space saved for about 16 buses which could carry 800 more people.

I appreciate there are these Pioneer buses that ferry passengers around town. The project has been caught in a number of corruption scandals and mismanagement and as a result, they have never taken off. But I have never got the opportunity to catch one. I don’t know their time table.

Ride sharing: Another remarkably simple solution of urban congestion is ride sharing on a more decentralized and distributed level. Because, it’s impossible for a single individual to utilize resources to their capacity, you can take advantage of networks and connections to optimize resources. You have a ride. I don’t. But we are heading in the same direction, so you rent me some of your extra space for a small fee.

That’s the concept behind services like AirBnB, Task Rabbit or Uber. Our ever-connected smartphones make it a reality to optimize and share resources making us consume more while spending less. Currently in Uganda, Uber is already operational and Safe boda too is spreading its tentacles outside of the city center. Most times I use Safeboda to get around town which has helped me beat the traffic and recoup productive time I would have otherwise wasted in senseless jams.

It turns out, solution to Kampala’s traffic jam is really simple and cheap. It’s not more roads or wider roads. It’s just a better and functional public transport system coupled with the new sharing economy. But as far as I can tell, that far from bearing a reality and as a result, more people are going to buy private cars despite exorbitant taxes…which will result in more stress on already strained roads and therefore more chronic jams.


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