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Little Kigali in Kampala

By Patrick Kagenda

Rwanda-based bus company creates order amidst city chaos

At plot 21 Namirembe Road in downtown Kampala city, there is a fenced off area of tiny buildings painted in white and light blue colours. It is the terminal of Trinity Bus Company, a Rwanda-based transporter who operates between Kampala, Kigali Rwanda, Goma and Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is located in the quieter Old Kampala, which is an area with mainly old colonial buildings, narrow streets, and newer shopping arcades with their tiny shops stalls, and the ubiquitous rabble-rousing boda-boda motorcycle taxi operators.

Even though it is slightly off the city centre proper, the crowds of people walking on the streets, and the hundreds of motorbikes, cars, and buses here are usually in a bumper-to-bumper traffic snarl.

But even with a perfunctory look, one cannot fail to notice that Trinity bus terminal is unique; almost a tiny haven of tranquility in the sea of chaos associated with this part of downtown Kampala city.

The colour of painting on the building matches the colour of the Trinity buses.

The organised way

On entering the bus terminal one notices the cleanliness, and orderliness, and then the reception one is given.

There is an array of markings giving direction to the different facilities at the bus terminal. The booking office, the waiting shelter, the store, the courier and luggage office, the restaurant, and the washrooms are all marked in shiny blue and red colours that easily catch the eye.

Even on days when heavy rains pound Kampala and most this area is bathed in gruel of red mud, the area reserved for passengers and buses remains spotless clean. Trinity Bus Company which has its headquarters in Kigali has been operating in Uganda from 2013.

Alex Kamanzi is the General Manager.

“We came to Uganda to offer transport services in a more organised way,” he says, “Most people have that feeling that operating a transport business one has to only focus on money. The founders of Trinity Bus Company looked at operating a transport business as meaning offering a service in an organised way close to international standards.

“Our two core values are time keeping and good customer relationship. When you are good at the two values, then you will gain the confidence of the people.”

He says they focus at giving customers a clean, good, and convenient environment both in their terminals and on their buses.

“At the terminal we ensure our customers have the best facilities available and are in top hygiene condition,” says Kamanzi.

He explains that the terminal is designed as a one stop terminal with a restaurant, booking office, courier and luggage office, waiting room for passengers, washrooms and spacious parking for both our buses and customers dropping and picking travellers.

“To ensure safety and orderliness for our passenger we don’t allow hawkers and boda boda cyclists at our terminal,” he says, “A passenger coming on Boda boda boards off at the gate and walks in while a passenger who wants to buy anything can access it at our canteen.”

On the bus, Trinity offers two types of classes; the VIP and the Ordinary class. Under the VIP class, passengers pay a slightly higher fare because the VIP class is more spacious with special reclining seats unlike the ordinary class where the seats are the usual type common in all buses. The VIP seats are all two-sitter unlike the ordinary class which has a column of two and three-sitter.

Julius Mahoro, a passenger to Kigali appreciates Trinity’s operations.

“I feel comfortable when travelling with Trinity buses because the employees of the bus company have been taught to value us the customers. This makes me feel respected and valued. Even when I am here at the bus terminal I feel safe because of the strict security offered by the company.”

Trinity’s managers say they are enjoying brisk business because of the many happy passengers. Starting with a bus occupancy rate of 40% two years ago, the company says the passenger traffic has grown to 70% occupancy during the low season and over 100% during the peak season.

The low season are the months between March- October  when few people are travelling  while the peak season is the period leading to the Christmas festivities and usually begins mid-November until February of the New Year.

The company operates a fleet of 20 Swedish made Scania and China made Yutong buses.

Lessons learnt

Operating a one-stop bus terminal was last seen in Uganda in the early 1980s when the government back then ran the Uganda Transport Company and Peoples Transport Bus company.

The only other bus terminal that had the same mission as Trinity in Kampala is possibly the Qualicel Bus Terminal on Nakivubo Road in downtown Kampala.

The Qualicel bus terminal was initially looked at as a state of the art terminal, with organised parking for buses and a security fence around it. Even today, it boasts well-built structures. But the promised orderliness has since disappeared.

It has no waiting shelters, is surrounded by shops, and its washrooms are dirty and crowded with hawkers and pickpockets. Confusion follows passengers from the moment they enter the terminal.

Even when one is a frequent traveller and knows the way around, touts routinely grab passengers, especially women and young travelers, and drag them to buses. Apparently the bus operators pay the touts a certain fee for every traveler they bring in this manner.

Ever since public transport was relegated to the private sector, Ugandan operators are thriving but their passengers are gnashing. The buses are poorly maintained, dirty, and the services disorganised. Hopefully, a few of the bus operators can learn from Trinity the value in treating the customer as king or queen.

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