The news that Uganda Development Corporation (UDC), is to import 980 buses from Ashok Leyland in India to solve this traffic nightmare in the city, should be welcomed.
We have learnt that President Yoweri Museveni has given his much needed nod of approval to the manufacturers, the Hinduja Group who make Ashok Leyland buses and directed the Finance Minister to fast track this project. If everything goes according to plan, the public transport service will be operational in six months and will be known as Tondeka Metro.
The buses will operate on the major roads from Kampala to Mukono, Entebbe, Nsangi, Buloba, Kyengera, Matugga, Wakiso, Gayaza, Namugongo, Luzira, Gaba, Ntinda, Northern Bypass, Munyonyo, and others. There will also be terminals in the major towns on each route where people could park their cars and board buses or where taxis could wait for them.
From the outset, the project seems a good answer to the irritating gridlocks on our roads. The project also promises to establish certainty of transport fares; whereby passengers will not be surprised by arbitrary fares.
There will be known day, weekly and monthly fares for the routes that these buses will be plying. This in a way will help people plan for their monthly transport budgets. But before this project is fast tracked, and even implemented, certain basics have to be in place. One, this project is likely to displace or put out of job many commuter drivers and their conductors. This is a big number and dangerous one to go without jobs.
Two, a similar project was once tried by Pioneer Bus, but it became a still birth on delivery. Lack of proper and specific infrastructure for such a project ended up bangling the bus service. The pioneer buses are now rotting at Namboole park.
We wouldn’t wish the same jinx to befall Tondeka. We would like to assume that, by fast tracking, the president meant plugging the loopholes that frustrated the previous similar projects. We need to have special lanes for these buses.
We need to have drivers specially trained for this kind of bus driving with positive attitudes about their work. One way to do this, would be to start with a pilot project with some, and then build a feeder system where commuters deliver passengers to certain terminals and who are later picked by buses.
The project would then benefit greatly from the challenges and successes of the pilot project. We only pray that all government agencies give Tondeka the help and guidance it needs to succeed.