A public transporters' strike in Masaka, which paralyzed business in the town last week, took another turn today with bus drivers joining protests against the Masaka Municipal authorities.
The strike is based on the failure of the municipality to close all illegal taxi parks in the town. Taxi operators in the gazetted main taxi park argue that a decision of the municipal council to award a tender to a private company that operates taxi parks around the town is unlawful. They claim that the extra taxi parks take passengers away from them and have created an illegitimate trade.
Last week all the taxi operators abandoned the main park and created their own loading stages around Masaka town. Many of them refused to work all week, reasoning that it was not worth spending money and time if their legitimate work was not protected by the authorities.
Now more than 20 bus drivers have joined the protests. Like their counterparts in the taxi business, they abandoned their vehicles at the main bus park in the town center and marched to the Masaka Town Clerk's office demanding for answers.
The bus drivers, turn boys and conductors insisted that the Town Clerk, Nick Byegira, should explain under what circumstances he granted a contract for the running of illegal taxi parks. They said he should be held responsible for the mess in the Masaka public transport business.
Elias Maliyamungu, the Operations Manager of Gaso Bus Company, said that because of the taxi drivers strike it was impossible for the buses to attract passengers. He said Gaso Bus Company went as far as to reduce its fares to Kampala from 6,000 shillings to 4,000 shillings, but that didn't help because people are wary of using public transport during unsettling times.
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Andrew Kaggwa, the manager of Link Bus Company, said he has lost 10 million shillings since the taxi drivers' strike. He explained that taxis from the main park have lowered their prices considerably, in a cut throat competition for passengers at the illegal stages, pricing buses out of their business.
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Neither the Masaka Town Clerk Nick Byegira nor his deputy Benon Yiga turned up for work today. In a telephone interview Byegira said he has ordered the chairperson of Katwe-Butego Division, Ahmed Kayemba, under whose jurisdiction the main taxi park lies, for an urgent meeting to sort out the problem.
However Ahmed Kayemba said he will not respond to the meeting request. He said his office does not award tenders and should not be pulled into a wrangle that does not concern him.
Kayemba disclosed that Katwe-Butego Division has lost five million shillings today because bus operators have refused to pay their daily loading fees.