Boda Boda good or bad
09 - Oct - 2017 19:08:12


The debate on the appropriateness of the motorcycle taxi has been ongoing in many parts of the world and seemingly has no consensus.

Readers of my column will have heard me lament the lack of Mass  Transit Systems in many of the major cities in Sub Saharan Africa which coupled with the lack of investment in maintaining and building roads has led to loss of productivity, traffic jams, pollution, bad temper and worst of all death. As more and more people flock from the countryside to these urban jungles in search of a living wage the situation will get worse. Commuters have to rely on privately owned mini buses, referred to as taxis, danfos, chapas and many other names depending on the location. They all do the same thing, namely transport more than the acceptable maximum passengers around congested cities and the vast majority are ill maintained, badly driven but cheap! Side by side with these private buses there are often motorcycle taxis, boda bodas or okadas, and it is these that are today the focal point of my ramblings


They call you dangerous because you are rebellious

And you ride a cherry coloured motorcycle




In some cities they have been banned completely, Calabar is one such. In others like Lagos they are limited to areas not serviced by other transport alternatives and it some they work without too much objection. In Bangkok for example, where there is an excellent underground and skytrain system they still work ferrying passengers home or to work from stations down remote 'sois'.

In Kampala, which is the focus of this piece, there are reportedly three hundred thousand patrolling the streets hooting their horns enticing punters to take a ride.

Dear readers, as you will be aware I am a walker and as such I am usually in the enviable position of being able to watch transport as it passes me by or sits idly waiting for the jam to clear. I can see clearly the arguments for and against the banning of this means of transport and I will try and summarise them here.

Those against will cite arguments that their sheer presence in such huge numbers are the cause of many hold-ups as they weave menacingly through the traffic swerving to avoid the potholes in the tarmac. They also argue that they are dangerous and unregulated and in many cases mechanically unsound. Most of the above is probably correct. Most of the drivers are not owners but renters of the vehicles. They need to pay the rent whether or not they have custom. In order to eat they need volume. This means passengers need to be delivered to destinations quickly to ensure an empty seat to re-fill. Owners are not particularly concerned with maintenance as daily rent is assured and they are not on the bike! The pressure for business encourages drivers to take unnecessary risks to deliver their human cargo speedily, not because the passenger is in a hurry but to empty the seat for the next. This puts lives at risk. When I sometimes have cause to use bodas, normally after dark, I stress to the driver that my head is vulnerable and my company would be less than happy if I became a statistic. This normally results in a smile from my charioteer and a sedentary, almost pleasant journey. The other much used argument against is the stress placed on already stretched medical facilities called upon to treat anything from cuts abrasions and breaks to permanent head injuries.

Those who promote the continuance are obviously the owners, a powerful lobby I understand, the drivers ( all 300,000) and those that make use of their services. They claim that they actually alleviate traffic because bikes would need to be replaced by more minibuses stopping and starting along highways. They also argue that current taxi transport does not access remote areas that can be dangerous for pedestrians at certain times. Also many thousands would have no other income stream. This faction would also argue that because of the volume of these bikes accidents are statistically small.

The main motivation for this article was to describe the day I went to war with the boda bodas. May I say on reflection that this was somewhat reckless,  an adjective used more than once by observers of my behaviour. It all started when I was walking up Kira Road from the Wandegeya traffic lights on the right hand side. The traffic was congested and along that stretch there are frequent speed bumps, specifically designed to slow traffic coming down the hill. Both these factors encourage boda boda drivers to mount the kerb and continue at speed on the pavement (pavement). One such driver splashed into water as he passed me so muddying my trousers. I confess to being slightly peeved by this anti social  behaviour so moved closer to the kerb to discourage other drivers from driving on areas allocated to pedestrians. I even started gesticulating to on coming vehicles to move back to the road. These hand movements were ignored and there was no slowing of speed but simply swerving to avoid me and other innocent walkers.

I am not using this example, one of many I could highlight, as a reason to ban this form of transport as it does offer an effective form of transport in a city woefully short of real alternatives but what I am suggesting is that these vehicles and their drivers should be effectively regulated and numbers controlled. The transport police in their sparkling white uniforms stand idly by while motorcycls with THREE passengers come within feet of them. The same police stand on the kerb as bikes pass by on their inside.

Any parent will know that children push boundaries and if they are not given clear guidelines of right and wrong they will be out of control. The same is true of these drivers because at present they are totally out of control. Let the debate continue to produce safe and effective transport.



The aim of argument or of discussion

should not be victory but progress

                                                                      Joseph Joubert



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