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Skyrocketing Fares Paralyze Public Transportation In Western Uganda

MBARARA – In a national address on Covid-19, President Museveni last Friday eased restrictions on public transport relieving Ugandans from the burden of the lockdown.

Analyzing the Covid-19 situation, President Museveni allowed public and private means of transport to operate at 50% capacity.

Focusing at the souring conditions caused by the pandemic, those in the public transport sector especially motorbike riders thanked the President for considering them as Covid-19 continues to bite.

This news was also celebrated by other people in different business sectors as they can now transport their merchandise that had become dead stock in their stores.

“Of course, vehicles cannot move where there are no people or goods for transportation, meaning that by opening public transport, our businesses can also operate normally in town,” says Ivan Tumwesigye who runs a phone accessories’ business in Mbarara town.

He however, lamented that public transport operators especially the bus and taxi operators are taking advantage of the opening to exorbitantly increase the travel prices which has left travelers with no option but despair.

“How could you transport this box from Mbarara to Bushenyi at shs 10,000, then charge a passenger 15,000 to a place where it was only shs 5000? They are unnecessarily increasing the transport fares just because they want to compensate for the short time, they’ve spent without earning,” explained Tumwesigye.

Millicent Atwine, another traveler stuck on Mbarara-Kabale road says she was asked to pay shs 20,000 to Nyamukana, Ntungamo a place where she used to pay only shs 5000.

Also, from Mbarara-Ishaka, transport is shs 15,000 then Mbarara-Kabale is shs 40,000 while from Mbarara to Kampala the charges range from shs 60,000 – shs 80,000 depending on the kind of bus bordered.

Anthony Kihembo, the General Manager, Global Buses says the increased transport fares have been deliberately agreed upon to adhere to the presidential directives of carrying 50% of the passengers.

Kihembo says the increased prices are meant to cater for the empty seats and also to meet the fuel costs on the road.

“You know reducing the number of passengers does not cause a reduction on fuel prices and the distance remains the same so the passengers we carry have to pay for the remaining empty seats such that we can also save some money to buy fuel and other maintenance costs as you know that these vehicles have been parked for some good time and anything can happen while on a journey,” Kihembo explained.

He confirmed that its true some passengers will fail to travel due to increased transport charges but thanked the President for allowing them to resume their businesses such that they can earn a living for their families.

“The President accepted us to transport half of the people to prevent spreading of the disease. We have also decided to multiply the fares by two; where it was shs 100,000 it is now shs 200,000. This  will hinder most people from  traveling because they are poor, they have not been working but they need to report back to their businesses so the situation is still not good for the wananchi,” Kihembo says.

Farouk Matovu, in charge of defence in Mbarara taxi park asked all taxis and buses in Mbarara and other routes to abide by the presidential guidelines not to risk being banned from operations.

“We are observing all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Washing facilities are there and no bus or taxi is allowed to enter the park without a sanitizer,” says Matovu.

He asked travelers to remain patient hoping that the situation on the road will normalize as the government continues to manage the pandemic.

“We cannot risk taking full capacity of passengers. The disease is still around so let it first get sorted then we shall begin our businesses as usual,” he said.

Away from transport, Mbarara is almost full to its capacity as the business fraternity reports to attend to their businesses which have been closed for over a month under the directives of Lt Col James Mwesigye, the Resident City Commissioner (RCC).

Despite the first address of the President, allowing small businesses, shops, food stores and supermarkets to operate as they observe SOPs, Mwesigye ignored this provision because business people in Mbarara violated the SOPs thus ordering them to close.

Security operatives led by the army and police commanders were seen on a daily basis beating, impounding vehicles and chasing whoever would try to sneak to the town.

The latest presidential address on Friday, also restored the traders’ hopes in Mbarara as the president continued to allow some businesses like salons, restaurants and hotels to operate as they observe SOPs.

He continued to suspend public markets which he claimed may attract many people with the risk of spreading the novel Covid-19.

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