A New Breed of Riders

By on February 27, 2017

Getting around Kampala can be a nightmare if you are not a hardened traveler. If you are from an organized city where traffic rules are followed strictly and road users respect each other, youT’ll receive the shock of your life when you come here. The food is delicious, the girls are wonderful, the men are generous and the night life is vibrant but the transport is something else.

There is a long standing battle between different road users and while the motorists have the machines, the pedestrians have their own ammo. Every once in a while, in an interesting twist, pedestrians will fight back in little ways. For instance you will catch a guy fingering the words ‘Wash Me’ on the back of your dusty car or you will find a pedestrian stopping a boda boda rider, arguing with the fella for 6 minutes, stopping a taxi and leaving the boda guy to continue the argument all by himself.

Our favourite pastime is exchanging multi-lingual insults in traffic. If a taxi driver cuts in front of you, you will immediately attempt to gain back your position which is usually fruitless because no one can beat taxi drivers. And when this happens, you will have no option but to roll down your window and share your vulgar sentiments in as loud and clear a language as you possibly can. You should however prepare to get sucked into a few minutes of absolute road rage fueled by a foul mouthed taxi driver, his wordy and crass conductor, and perhaps one or two passengers offering back up.

Until very recently, one of the worst group of road users have been the Boda Boda riders. I say this because lately, there has been a wave of transformation not just in the way the boda riders conduct their business but also in the way other road users deal with them. It is like a Boda Boda Revolution!

If you are new to this city, you will most likely encounter two kinds of boda boda riders.

The First Lot of Boda Boda Riders

These guys will probably have a heavy unwashed jacket on at all times, no helmet or a skateboard helmet if they have one, and they will struggle tooth and nail against each other for every prospective client. These guys will bargain with you for as long as it takes and they will most likely tell you they know where you are going even if you told them of a made up place that does not even exist – until you are both lost. Then they will stop and stare at you like you are the most useless human on the face of the earth – one who does not even know where they are going. They will move around with no more than UGX 3,000 which is usually set aside for fuel when the worst comes to the worst. This first lot of boda boda riders will probably run out of fuel halfway the trip and will request you to get off so they can tilt their bikes in some strange magical bike-tilting process that gives the bike another lease of life – at least for an extra few meters. These guys can be quite indecorous and will have vulgar words roll off their tongues with so much ease and frequency. They will easily take up to 3 passengers at one go and will pass just about anywhere to steer clear of the traffic cops. They will also drive through traffic lights at blistering pace it will leave you horrified and frightened to death. You ride with them at your own risk.

The Second Lot of Boda Boda Riders

This second lot is the new breed of boda boda riders and they are quite unique. You find them wearing reflector jackets with the words ‘Safe Boda’ written on them. Most times, they will attempt to greet you before anything else and will always follow traffic rules, even when you are time barred. These guys will ALWAYS wear full face helmets and will offer you a helmet if you do not have one yourself. They will not start their ride until you have worn your helmet and will try as much as possible to ensure that you are safe even if it means lending you a jacket on a cold and lengthy ride. They may or may not indulge in conversation as you ride but will almost certainly ask if you are comfortable, before and during the trip.

First AidThey are also fully trained in first aid and each of them is a certified first responder. (Photo by Joan)

For the past few weeks, I have intentionally been using the second lot of Boda boda riders to be able to understand how and why they are changing the face of travel in the city.

As it turned out, I learnt that the Safe boda guys have released a new app which is meant to help Kampala dwellers get around with more ease. They are also in the process of training several riders each week as their network expands in Kamapala.

A typical ride with the second lot of boda boda riders

A typical ride with these Safe boda riders will probably go something like this;

You will start off by downloading the new Safe Boda app, feeding in a few details here and there and then the app will pick up your location. Once this happens, you will then feed in your destination and the app will throw up some kind of estimate for what your journey will cost. At this point, you will be prompted to order the ride, after which  the nearest located Safe Boda rider will be notified. In no more than 15 seconds, the guy will call you. He may or may not be able to speak English perfectly but he will nonetheless introduce himself and ask where you are and then he will let you know how long it will take before he arrives.

During this time, you will probably be looking at the Safe Boda App and wondering why this app did not come around 10 or so years ago. But you will smile and remember that 10 years ago not so many people had smart phones and 10 years ago boda boda riders could not be trusted to navigate their way using Google Maps.

And then you will appreciate that now Boda Boda riders are cool guys.

Request a ride

The App will estimate how much you will spend on your trip

The Safe Boda guy will arrive and at this point, your phone will buzz with a notification that the rider has arrived. The rider who may or may not have a huge jacket underneath his orange reflector jacket and may or may not be a bald guy named George with a good sense of humour will offer a fair greeting – to break the ice. He will then hand you a helmet which you MUST accept or else he will probably not take you. Turns out, they have a policy against taking passengers who are not wearing their helmets. Which is pretty cool seeing as many passengers are quite stubborn and do not even care that much about their own safety.

Boda GeorgeThe Safe Boda rider will be easily identifiable from his outfit

By now, the rider will be ready to start the trip and he will pull out his neat smart phone, finger it a little and then you will receive a notification that you are now setting off. On your way, you will notice that the guy is not really exchanging hot words with other road users like boda boda guys usually do. And neither will you see him cross traffic lights, over speed or surprise you with the bike bending technique.

By the time you get to your destination you will be ready to pay your fare, having seen what the safe boda app has calculated. Neither of you will need to argue about the trip cost as the amount will be calculated based on distance traveled and time taken. The fare is usually less than what the average boda boda rider would charge. And if you have credit, you will not need to fork out a shilling. But if you do not have credit on the app, you will kindly be required to pull out your wallet and do what every decent citizen ought to do – pay his dues.

At this point the Safe Boda guy will be looking at his smart phone and quietly hoping that you give him some fair rating on the app because the rating will determine whether or not you enjoyed the trip. And this sort of means he has to be on his best behaviour at all times.

George Safe BodaMost boda boda stages will have both Lot A and Lot B riders 

I have been lucky to use a number of these Safe Bodas over the past few weeks and with the new Safe Boda App hitting the playstore, it seems that Kampala is not so hard a place to get around anymore. As a guy who is not too keen on owning a car (mostly because I can not afford it), I will probably be seen getting around on a Safe Boda more often than not. And if like me you are hoping to get around easier, enjoy your rides more, and save yourself the hustle of haggling and bargaining, then you might want to think about downloading the new Safe Boda App. While you are at it, look out for the free credit you will receive once you download the app.

Go ahead and enjoy moving around this beautiful city.

“An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation” ― Enrique Penalosa

a.k.a Beewol
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