Before I moved to Uganda, I had no idea how convenient motorcycle taxis could be. Here they are referred to as bodas or boda bodas. But after a decade of living here, not only have I seen them as handy transportation, but I have often relied on them during times when my car is either in the shop or busy with my husband.
When we go to the states for a visit and only have one vehicle, I find myself feeling impatient that I cannot just go to the nearest street corner and get going wherever I need to at that moment. You see, boda bodas are everywhere in the town that I live. We stay on the outskirts of town and yet, they are even here. You can hail one by merely nodding from a distance or raising your hand in the air. They are always on the look out for a new fare.
And it isn’t just their availability that make them so valuable. They are reasonable to hire. You can go across town for about 70 cents and then get back home for the same. If you are “tough,” you can get a fare for even less like the locals. But, for us, 70 cents suits us just fine and we don’t mind paying a bit more than my national neighbors. After all, it’s supporting local business.
Even more than their affordability is their resourcefulness. You see, you can take just about anything on a boda boda! Stacks and stacks of trays of eggs. Dozens of chickens. A goat. A cow! I have seen multiple people on one – six at once. Piles of charcoal bags. A huge fish with its tail dragging the ground. I have seen another motorcycle. Stacks and stacks of plastic chairs. A living room suite (couch and two chairs)! I have even seen them towing another motorcycle. It is truly amazing what one can get on a boda boda! I have posted several pictures here for you to see some examples.
It never ceases to amaze me the resourcefulness of the Ugandan people. They use what they have very well. And if it’s a boda boda for transportation that you have to use and can afford, then that is what is used to transport whatever the need! You see them rain or sunshine. Sure, less of them transport in the rain, but some even have umbrellas over themselves to protect from the rain and sun overhead.
Now, some of you safety gurus may be wondering if it’s safe. Well, very few actually have helmets let alone offer them to their passengers, although nowadays you can see some around. But it is not unusual to see one wipe out. It is also not unusual to have a close call yourself with one while driving your own vehicle. You see, boda bodas aren’t really regulated here, at least not in our town. It might surprise you to find how few actually carry a driver’s permit endorsed for motorcycle driving. One might even wonder how many have actually been given driving lessons.
Boda boda drivers dart in and around traffic. Part of their versatility is their ability to get through tight spaces in the midst of traffic jams. When other vehicles are sitting still, boda bodas can maneuver on through. It is not unusual to see people get out of a car they are riding in and hop on a boda boda to get to their appointments on time if traffic gets stuck. You can see boda bodas driving in between cars, down side walks, and yes, even going the wrong direction just to get where their fare has requested. They take short cuts to arrive at their destination quickly and get on to the next fare.
So you can imagine that safety is not of the utmost concern for most. Some times as you are driving down the road in your car, it feels like you are driving in the midst of a “sea of bodas.” They part as your vehicle approaches – or not. They are on both sides of you as you move forward. If you want to turn off, you need to look in both side-view mirrors and still look around, giving plenty of time with your blinker (called an indicator here) to show that you want to turn. Even then, there is no guarantee that the boda driver will see your turn signal. So it is really an art to be a part of the flow of traffic here and show with your vehicle what your intention is as you turn.
But one thing that puzzles me about boda boda traffic is that it seems like they don’t really have their own place on the road. You see, if they are driving down the road and a car approaches behind them, it is often assumed that they will “give way” by getting over to the side of the road in order to let the car pass on by. True, they often are not going as fast as the car that approached behind them, but sometimes they are. A car will beep its horn and not reduce its speed as it approaches, expecting the motorcycle to be on the side of the road by the time it reaches.
Another thing that might surprise you is that they often do not stop at intersections for traffic lights or stop signs. Many times it is just preferred to not stop, but other times, it is purely easier and more convenient. If you have a heavy and full load, to stop may mean it will be hard to get going again. I can understand why many choose to drive on through. It is a common sight though to see a boda driver proceed on through a stop sign or intersection without looking both directions. I am amazed at their apparent peripheral vision, but I have also seen many near crashes as a result of this practice.
So while the system of boda boda taxis may not appear to be perfect, they are certainly a vital part of the economy here in Uganda. They give many a way to earn money and offer a service unequaled to those requiring a lift. Take whatever you like or need. Expect the unexpected. Perhaps you would like to try a ride yourself? Just prepare yourself … and maybe bring your own helmet? You will be in for the ride of your life! Come, enjoy!