Passengers using the Kampala-Masaka Highway yesterday said public commuter taxis plying the route had raised transport fares after rising water levels at River Katonga Bridge led to a diversion of traffic on the busy highway.
The Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) in a joint statement with Traffic police said yesterday that transport had been paralysed after flash floods submerged the bridge in Mpigi District, covering a section of about 200 metres of the road.
As a result, police directed all motorists taking the route either from Masaka side or Kampala to use the Mpigi-Kanoni- Sembabule –Villa Maria-Masaka Road, making the journey longer by 56km and costing more fuel.
“We had no option, but to raise the fares, but when water subsides at Katonga Bridge we will definitely revert to the old fares,” Mr Bosco Bukenya, the chairperson of Masaka Taxi Drivers and Conductors Association, said.
Passengers using commuter taxis from Masaka to Kampala had to pay between Shs25,000 and Shs30,000, up from Shs15,000. Those taking the Kampala-Mbarara route were charged between Shs35,000 and Shs40,000, a journey which has been costing Shs25,000.
“I ask my fellow taxi drivers not to risk and use the flooded road because the water has a lot of pressure, we pray that God intervenes and saves us from this harsh situation because we are already stuck with several challenges,” he added.
Some commuter taxi operators in Masaka City did not work yesterday after several passengers declined to pay the extra fee and postponed their trips.
Mr David Kizuula, a commuter taxi driver on Mbarara –Masaka-Kampala route, said he was buying fuel of Shs180,000 for the single trip but the alternative route requires him to buy fuel of Shs250,000.
“It is beyond our own control and just pray that it doesn’t take long because we may start operating at a loss despite making a slight increase in the fares,” he said.
However, Mr Antony Kihembo, the manager of Global Coaches Limited, said the current situation will not force them to raise the fares.
“This [floods] came abruptly; we had revised our transport fares from Shs30,000 to Shs20,000 as a give back to our customers,” he said.
Tausi Bus Company, which uses the same route, had by last evening also maintained the fares from Kampala to Mbarara at Shs20,000.
Mr Allan Ssempeebwa, the Unra spokesperson, said the diversion will remain in place until the water levels have sufficiently subsided.
“We’re hopeful that water levels will subside with time and normal traffic operations resume, we urge road users to abide by our earlier directives. However, our technical teams are on the ground to monitor the situation,” he said.
River Katonga burst its banks after it rained heavily on Wednesday night in Mpigi and neighbouring districts of Gomba, Kalungu and Sembabule, where the river connects from.
The fast-moving flood waters also reclaimed part of the site near the bridge where the Uganda People’s Defence Forces plan to erect a multibillion army museum.
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