Bus firms count losses over border row

Wednesday October 9 2019

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The Katuna border post before it was closed. PHOTO | FILE 

JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
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Uganda-rwanda cross-border transporters have resorted to mass lay offs of staff after sinking deep into losses from the travel restriction now in its eighth month.

Bus companies including the Trinity Express, Simba Coach, Mash Poa, Jaguar and Volcano, suspended part of their fleet in May due to declining clientele.

For example, Jaguar which had more than 20 staff on its Kigali-Kampala route with over seven buses daily is now left with only four workers whose salaries have been cut by a third.

The bus company currently operates only two buses that are deployed upon availability of passengers who must be foreign nationals as per the travel restrictions imposed on the Rwanda-Uganda border in March this year, when a diplomatic spat escalated between the two governments.

“It is a huge loss that has affected everyone in the transport chain, and specifically the families of our drivers and conductors.

We cannot close shops as yet, but the changes are in linewith efforts to scale down based on the realities of the market,” said a Jaguar agent at Nyabugogo Bus Park in Kigali.

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According to the agent, the bus firm initially suspended the fleet hoping it was a temporarily situation, but as it became impossible to cover operational costs, it was forced to maintain a small number of staff who would have to take a pay cut.

He said those who made Rwf200,000 per month before the crisis now take home only Rwf120,000 while those who made Rwf150,000 now earn Rwf50,000.

While the firms see the ongoing attempts by the two governments to normalise relations as a relief for their business, most said they do not see any guarantees to recover from losses incurred over the past eight months.

The managers who spoke to Rwanda Today did not give details on the losses, but confirmed their business ranked among the top casualties of the border crisis.

When Rwanda Today visited the cross-border buses parking section at Nyabugogo this past week, it was deserted. A space used by more than 15 buses daily had only two buses that travelled occasionally depending on the availability of passengers.

Trinity Express, a local company with 13 buses that regularly plied the Kigali-Kampala route now has only three buses on the route.

This translates into job losses for more than 30 workers namely conductors and drivers. Trinity Express manager Twahirwa Dodo, said that the workers were recently suspended from duty and could be reinstated in view of the possible resumption of business when the two governments ongoing attempt to normalise relations bears fruits.

“In case cross-border movements resume, it would be a relief for our business,” said Mr Twahirwa, adding that in addition to suspending staff, the company had canceled insurance and other fees for the fleet that was out of business.

Meanwhile, bus companies with routes in countries in the region including Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan have deployed part of their fleet there. A Simba Coach staff Jeremie Barutwanayo however argued that the decision to deploy buses to these routes was rushed without proper planning and business strategy.

He said this exposed the bus companies to higher costs in terms of authorisation fees, insurance and others expenses compared with what they made in return.

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