Uganda Conservation Foundation

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Getting Around in Uganda

Here's a few things you should know if you are travelling in Uganda. 

A taxi is not a taxi! A taxi is a car or van used like a bus, carrying many persons along a fixed route. A taxi taking one passenger at a time on a negotiable route is referred to as a 'special hire'. In this same manner a bus station is called a taxi park.

A 14 seater taxi is called a matatu. Whilst a matatu in Uganda is strictly limited to how many people it can carry this is not true with regard to how much luggage it can also carry.  

A motorbike or bicycle used for the same purpose is a 'boda boda'. The term originated at the Uganda–Kenya border crossing at Busia, where a kilometre separates the downtown area and the border post on the Ugandan side. Travellers dropped off at the bus/taxi station by buses or taxis for those coming to Uganda from the Kenya side were ferried over this distance by enterprising cyclists, who would attract business by calling border, border.

It is not unusual to see 3 or four people or even a whole family sharing a boda boda. Many travelers will want to experience this themselves but personally I do not recommend it, the cost saving is minimal compared to the chance of injury. Motorbikes are simply not designed to carry that much weight and still be manoeuverable even though most boda boda drivers would argue otherwise. 

Similar to the matatu's capacity for luggage, a boda boda is only really restricted by its length, the width of the actual item it is carrying is irrelevant regardless of whether it is a hazard to other road uses. I have passed many boda boda's drivers who are seated so far forward because of 2 or more passenger, or a large load that they cannot actually see out of his rear vision mirrors.

Rules of the road

There are none !! Well officially there are but the basic law of the road seems to be that the bigger you are the more right of way you have. Unless of course there is a policeman around or you happen to be a matatu driver. Matatu drivers get paid per trip so the more trips they can make in one day, the more money they get paid and therefore they have right of way over everyone. Well that's their theory and they are sticking to it.  

There are no lines on most roads and it is perfectly reasonable to drive anywhere you want, even on the side of the road if it will get you there quicker.  If there are lanes of traffic in a queue, and you are in a hurry, then simply go around them and make another one!!.

On the few occasions that you come across traffic lights - ignore them - because there will invariably be police there who are also ignoring them and instead directing the traffic themselves.  

If somebody flashes their high beam at you they are actually telling you to get out of the way because they are coming through!!   

It is a proven fact that driving in Uganda can lead to Tourette Syndrome (I have proved it personally), but this phenomena only seems to occur in Mzungu's (white people) and is usually temporary. Best way to avoid it, particularly when driving in Kampala is to have some good music playing in the car and never expect to get anywhere on time. 

And the best way to avoid accidents is to safely assume that everyone else on the road is an idiot!! (In the nicest possible way of course)

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