Travel chaos registered during the just concluded festive season has once again brought to the fore challenges the transport sector is facing.
The New Year will be a tough one for bus companies plying remote upcountry routes, among them Rusizi, Nyamasheke, Karongi, Rubengera and Birambo where passengers have raised doubts on operators’ capacity to handle huge traffic.
While travellers to these destinations were denied advance bookings, those who arrived as early as 6am on Christmas and New Year eve could only be given 3pm tickets after hours of queuing.
The chaotic travels during festive season, which has been recurring from the previous two years, is expected to go until mid January.
The surging demand signals the height of long-standing transport service reliability challenges operators faced during 2018.
Last year, saw bus companies heavily invest in acquiring the 25 to 32 seaters while there was increased upgrade of major routes fleet to 60-seater vehicles by several operators.
Twahirwa Dodo of the Rwanda Federation of Transport Co-operatives (RFTC) observed that apart from network expansion and deployment to destinations previously not linked, transport industry is still facing some challenges.
Mr Dodo said this was driven by business sense among operators, who declined to deploy additional uses where there was high demand, but ensure that existing buses do more trips.
“The arrangement works better provided that at least three drivers are allocated to alternate on two vehicles or two per one vehicle to ensure they don’t get overworked,” he said.
Operators have particularly have not faired well in serving Kigali City suburbs with high demand reflected in unending queues at Bus Park.
Individual bus owners also cited poor state of roads, resulting in frequent breakdowns and high operating costs as reasons several Kigali’s suburban and a number of upcountry routes continue to be underserved.
Bus owners on Nyabugogo-Nzove-Rutonde, one of the highly underserved routes, told Rwanda Today the promises to fix the road by Rwanda Transport Development Agency and Ministry of Infrastructure in 2017 when the route was introduced had not materialised two years later.
“It is last year that individual bus owners removed their fleet not because there was no demand but losses they incurred.
The operator has since been reluctant to deploy additional buses, we prefer compelling drivers to do more trips which has failed to work when you look at the trend at which the demand grew,” said a driver on the route.
Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA) and the Ministry of Infrastructure said users can expect to be served much better when an the planned overhaul of transport sector take place soon.
State Minister for transport Jean De Dieu Uwihanganye indicated there was need to redesign the existing route system and operators’ contract terms to deliver better. He confirmed this year would see the entire route system overhauled and the existing network redesigned based on demand.
This, he said, will happen alongside adopting the bus information system and passenger information system, the IT applications expected to track fleet and provide real time updates on the next bus arrival before people can spend time at stages and terminus.
Earlier, Mr Uwihanganye told Rwanda Today the construction and testing of smart shelters was being piloted in selected parts of Kigali before they can be extended.
The developments are expected to shape transport service providers’ new terms when the planned routes tendering takes place following the expiry of the five year contracts and the soon to end 12-month contract extension.