Commuters in Kigali are preferring motorcycles and private vehicles to buses, upsetting government plans to promote public mass transport in the fast growing city.
A recent study by the Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority shows that only three per cent of commuters use buses compared with 60 per cent and 34 per cent respectively, who use motorcycles and private cars.
“The data paints a bad picture of public transport. We all agree that we have a huge task of boosting bus use to a level where people can leave their cars at home,” said Rura principal engineer in charge of transport planning and development, Emmanuel Katabarwa.
Regular users of public transport cite delays due to congestion on the roads and a shortage of buses which result in long queues at bus termini especially during peak hours as reasons for seeking alternatives. Bus operators also overload their fleet forcing commuters to endure uncomfortable rides.
“We are left with little choice because you cannot cite bus delays as a reason for repeated lateness to work,” said Clementine Kubwimana, a regular commuter, adding that she often takes motorcycles in order to save on time, even though the fares are seven to 10 times higher than what buses charge.
Ms Kubwimana added: “In the evening, we have to wait for long to board a bus then it takes another hour or two to your destination under chaotic conditions.”
Bus operators said that in the absence of dedicated bus lanes, they have to share the roads with private cars, trucks, and motorcycles meaning they cannot escape the traffic jam.
Rura director-general Patrick Nyirishema said that the dedicated bus lanes project is still at inception stage, but the organisation had held talks with Kigali City officials on setting up a tech-enabled traffic flow management system in the meantime.
The system will allow public commuter buses to move unhindered at junctions and passengers to access real-time information on the schedules.
“We are considering allowing buses on a single lane on roads with dual carriageway because it is unfair for a bus carrying 70 passengers to delay behind a private car with one person,” said Mr Nyirishema, adding that “our inspection team will enforce this.”
The changes are part of sector reforms Rura expects to come into effect in May 2020, when new bus companies now in the bidding process will sign contracts to offer transport services for the next five years.
But the operators, who will also be required to upgrade their fleet in size, capacity, and mix have expressed reservations on whether the new system will end the longstanding delays.
“While it is a good idea I believe that it would work better to pilot the project in order to gauge its feasibility before putting it on paper as part of our contracts. I say this because the representation of roads with dual carriage lanes is about 10 per cent, meaning government could also consider diverting private vehicles to alternative roads during peak hours. But that calls for a pilot,” argued the Royal Express bus manager, Nille Muneza.
Rura says its decision is based on analysis by consultants who found it possible after studying the traffic patterns.