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Inside the taxi industry: The intricacies of doing taxi transport business in Kampala

By Gideon Munaabi

Taxis are a good investment but getting into the business is tricky

Ogenda ogenda (Are you going, are you going)……….These are the words you will rarely miss when you approach a taxi stage in and around Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

This is the daily job of the mostly rough taxi touts spread all over the city stages and those in the neighboring districts. As the taxi leaves the stage, the touts (often with no work identification) run after the taxi until the conductor gives them or at least throws some coins on the road.

This leaves many people wondering how this money collected by the errant touts or call them mercenaries gets to the Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (UTODA), the company that won the tender to manage the taxi business in Uganda.

Many people including the taxi owners may not understand the politics of how the taxi business is run in Kampala City or any other major town in Uganda.

Not only is it a complicated issue at the stages spread around the city, but also within the taxi parks themselves. This writer digs into the operations of the UTODA and tells the story of how a businessman/women buys a taxi and gains from its operations.

Buying a taxi and getting to work:

A businessman/woman buys an omnibus at between 18, 000, 000 and 24, 000, 000 (between $9,000 and $12,000, when the dollar is worth 2000 Uganda shillings). This is far from starting taxi business as one has to get an experienced driver who is able to convince the taxi body to allow him operate.

According to the common practice, the driver acts as though he is hiring the omnibus and pays an agreed amount either on a daily basis or weekly. The driver, who must have paid the membership to the association, then proceeds to the UTODA offices within the taxi park. Here, the driver also pays the registration fee of 45, 000/- to operate before applying for a stage.

The Park superintendent at the offices then asks the Driver which stage he wants to operate on and directs him (driver) to the stage chairman to continue the negotiations including the money he is supposed to pay per route.

In case the negotiations are fruitful, the stage chairman or supervisor registers the driver and not the vehicle. This means that should a taxi owner change the driver, this new driver would go through the same process. In addition to these UTODA fees, the taxi body also collects money for Kampala City Council by charging 20, 000 shillings for a monthly sticker.

UTODA Operational charges:

Apart from the UTODA registration fees and the daily UTODA sticker of 4,500 shillings as well as the KCC sticker, each stage is independently managed and charges varying passenger-loading fees depending the transport fares taxis charge passengers, the size of the taxi (14-seater omnibus or 28-seater coaster).

The passenger loading fees range from 1000 shillings to 20, 000 shillings depending on how much the taxi driver and his conductor will collect from the passengers which depends on the distance the vehicle covers, nature of road and class of people it takes.

For example, omnibus taxis heading to Busia on the Uganda-Kenya boarder are charged 12, 000 for each route while taxis heading to most city suburbs in the distance of about 4 to 5km leave behind 1,400 shillings per route when they are charging each passenger 600 shillings.

Order of loading passengers:

Apart from a few exceptions, all the other taxi drivers load passengers on the first come first serve basis. Immediately after entering the taxi park, the Driver or his conductor rushes and registers to load.

Sometimes the conductor on behalf of the driver does the booking of the number for loading. This is common when there is traffic jam near the taxi park and the taxi cannot easily reach on the stage in time. The stage managers and supervisors ensure that the loading timetable is followed.

The numberless taxis:

Like what the author of the animal farm noted, there are those taxis, which are more than others. These taxis do not get the numbers for loading the passengers. These taxis often known as numberless never wait.

Unless they find more than three people in the loading taxi, the numberless taxi drivers have the right to even ask that the two who are in the loading taxi disembark and board theirs. However, this comes with a cost and is mainly done for taxis in very good conditions.

The drivers to these taxis usually pay a flat rate also depending on the stage, but the least is about 20, 000 shillings per day for shorter distances. Here the driver must be sure of making many trips to recover the big amounts of money paid to get the numberless.

Taxi stages spread all over the city:

UTODA is not only charged with the taxi parks but also the taxi stages in the city center and the suburbs. Although the UTODA officials this writer talked to say that the stages also have fixed amounts of money charged for loading, from the observation, it is the contrary.

Because the taxis sometimes do not wait to get full from the same stage or sometimes picks two or three passengers from the stage, it becomes hard to charge these people a fixed amount of money. What many conductors do is to wait for the taxi to start moving and they throw coins of less than one thousand on the road for the touts to pick.

These touts or mercenaries may not possess UTODA Identity cards, but failure by the taxi conductors to leave behind money for them puts the taxi driver in trouble. Defaulting drivers are always reported to the UTODA authorities and this could even lead to expulsion from work. As this money is given to these mercenaries, the stage manager is looking from a distance and demands for it.

How does the money end up at UTODA?

UTODA does not have to run after the stage managers whether in the taxi park or outside the taxi park. As long as you have brought in the amount of money they ask for, the UTODA officials have no problem with these officials pocketing even millions of shillings.

Money for the taxi owners:

Like the UTODA people, the taxi owners usually demand for a specific amount of money because it is not easy to tell how much a person can make, say in a day. As such taxi owners charge between 20, 000 and 45, 000 shillings depending on condition of the vehicle. New vehicles usually fetch more money for the owner because they are able to make more trips.

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