Brian's Column: Why is public transport in developing contexts so yikes?

Brian's Column: Why is public transport in developing contexts so yikes?

Brian is back with his monthly column giving his unique perspective on youth and road safety issues in Africa. Often, our perspective of African issues is shrouded by the media or stereotypes. Brian gives us a first hand opinion from the ground.

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“You can’t rely on it”, you said. Why is public transport in developing countries such a pain in (deleted by editor). Forget the Human Development Index and all these multi-colored measures of development, gosh, there should only 3 indicators of development for any country in the world. 1) the ratio of number of trees to country population, 2) the quality of music and food, 3) the ratio of people using public to private means of transport.

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Today, Uganda woke up to news of yet another fatal road traffic crash that cleared lives of 4 family members aged between 28-32 as they sped across the Northern Highway. These poor souls have just started to live for when you think about how much their parents/country invested in them and now they are no more because of something that could have been avoided; it’s disheartening. Last month, I was reading about how Nigeria loses two persons every four hours because of road crashes. Okay, it does sound like a rap song, but holy virgin! These humans are dying of avoidable risks. This shouldn’t be normal. Most die in private cars, and we all know the long stories behind these cars and the novice drivers:-from buying driving permits to road retired car conditions. In Tanzania, just last month, an over-loaded ferry capsized on lake Victoria where Death toll rose to 209. Yes, just like that, we lost probably a series of potential Nobel Prize Winners.

“Do we as passengers have any options?” You wonder.

Yes, we could all buy private cars:-yeah, but at what cost? The road sizes seem to be stunted. With the population increasing between 2.1-3.6% per annum, how many cars shall we have on the road, and what about the curse we’ve already slapped onto our environment? I just read about THAT 1.5 degree Report where Temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues at its current pace and if the world fails to take rapid and unprecedented measures to stem the increase. Yo, we might not have any human life soon!

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A typical Ugandan public bus.

Anyway, like most of you, I spent 9 hours on a Public Transport Bus from Soroti (a local town) to Entebbe Airport to participate in Research Symposium on Enhancing Capacity for Maritime and infrastructure disaster response and management in Nairobi. I couldn’t miss this event for anything in the world as it was an opportunity for me to attend a PhD Peer Review Event as well as meeting my supervisor. Like many uptown public buses, there’re chicken, humans and other property. They seem not to have a quotidien, and stop to do whatever business every 5km. We have no provision for Persons with Special Needs, People Living with Disabilities and the seats…Oh dear, if you belong to the class of the “Senior Citizens” or you’re pregnant, good luck finding a doctor upon arrival.

Listen, this distance is 346km, meaning it would take about 6 hours 39 mins! As we got closer to the city,the inevitable happened: A long mean-looking obese epidemic of traffic jam stood across us. There was one way to get out of it. Spend more money on a commercial motorbike which saw us maneuver through the traffic like in one of those block-buster movies-and I mean, we broke a few rules: From riding on pavements to ignoring a red light (once). I’m neither Jamaican, Kenyan nor Ethiopian, but I splinted 800m in probably a record time to  make it as the last passenger to check-in.

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Looking back, anything could have happened during that motorbike- plane-chase! The only comfort was using a Safe Boda Bike Company that could get me a helmet. Our governments need to do everything legal to make Public Transport sexy!

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