Why METU was given exclusive rights to run, manage city bus transport

by Mmeeme Leticia Luweze
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In a letter circulating online, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni grants exclusive rights to Mr. Metu Katabazi, the proprietor of Menu Zhongtong Bus Industries, to operate and produce public buses in the Kampala Metropolitan Area. Dated 20th November 2023, the letter, initially questioned for authenticity, was confirmed by Mr. Sandor Walusimbi, the senior Press Secretary to the President.

President Museveni’s directive reads, “This is to direct you to give exclusive permission to Mr. Metu Katabazi to run the Mass Transit Service for buses in Kampala and the surrounding towns using the buses he has fabricated in Uganda.”

In the letter, President Museveni directed the Prime Minister to grant the monopoly to produce and operate public bus services in the Kampala Metropolitan Area to Mr. Katabazi. However, what are the consequences of this action to the Transport Sector in Kampala and surrounding towns?

Kampala, home to over three million people, sees a daily influx from distant districts in Uganda for goods and services. Taxis and bodas have long been the main modes of transport, found at every corner, be it a taxi park or stage. Bodas tend to charge more due to their smaller, faster navigation through Kampala’s traffic.

The introduction of a Mass Transit Service for buses in the Kampala Metropolitan Area may reshape this landscape, potentially replacing the taxis with these new means of transportation. Kampala’s long-standing issues with congestion and unregulated public transport have been the subject of extensive discussions. In 2018 the Kampala Capital Authority said that it had prepared a Transport Master Plan for the entire Kampala Metropolitan Area and the plan called for the operation of a robust Mass Rapid Transit System with buses, rail, and cable cars by 2040.

Over the years, Kampala lacked a robust public bus system, despite various attempts by private buses to establish themselves, many of which eventually went bankrupt. This historical trend has contributed to the ongoing challenges faced by mass transportation initiatives, facing stiff competition from the popular local means of transport in Uganda

According to the Kampala Capital City, in 2018, taxis dominated the transportation landscape at 46%, followed by Bodabodas at 32% and cars at 19%. Buses and trucks each account for a mere 2%. This imbalance has hindered the success of mass transportation means in Uganda.

We consulted with members of the community to gather their perspectives on the issue. Matovu Moses, a taxi driver in Kampala said “Many of us have invested our savings and time in the taxi business, and now we fear losing our sources of income. If the mass transit service takes over, what happens to our taxis? The government should provide support and ensure a fair transition so that existing businesses are not adversely affected,” said Moses Matovu.

Another citizen who resides in Mengo said “While improving public transportation is crucial, we must also consider the environmental impact. More buses on the road could lead to increased emissions unless they are eco-friendly. It is essential to balance convenience with sustainability to ensure a positive long-term impact on both transportation and the environment.”

This presidential endorsement is rooted in a strategic vision to empower the local manufacturing sector. The directive proposes a comprehensive approach for Mr. Metu, suggesting his involvement in both the fabrication and operation of the City Bus Service. The rationale behind this decision is twofold: first, to provide additional financial resources for the expansion of the local manufacturing industry, and second, to prevent the externalisation of money earned in Uganda by avoiding reliance on foreign service providers in the transport sector.

President Museveni’s letter underscores the optimal combination of having a single entity responsible for both producing the goods (vehicles) and providing the service (transport). The directive encourages Mr. Metu to not only fabricate the buses, but also run the transport service. This integrated approach is designed to maximise the benefits of local manufacturing and ensure the efficiency of locally-driven mass transit services in Kampala.

The letter further emphasises the importance of sourcing additional buses, if needed, exclusively from Kiira Motors. It discourages the importation of foreign-made buses for the transport business, aligning with the overarching goal of promoting and supporting the growth of Uganda’s indigenous manufacturing capabilities.

The letter was also copied to the Vice President, Minister of Transport and Works, Minister of Finance Planning and Economic Development, Attorney General, and the Executive Director of KCCA.

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