Why bicycle taxis endure in Busia despite popularity of motorcycles

Mr Hesbon Odhiambo, a bicycle taxi operator, at the Tesia stage in Busia town. Busia County has about 15,000 bicycle taxis but many operators say they have not upgraded to motorcycles because of financial constraints. PHOTO | GAITANO PESSA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • There are about 15, 000 bicycles taxis in Busia County drawn from 14 Saccos, Busia United Boda boda Association Chairman Eric Makokha says.

  • Most bicycle taxi operators are stuck in the trade because of financial constraints.

  • Wabwire Barasa, an operator at Soko Posta stage,  said in a good month he rakes at least Sh 6,500.

The introduction of boda-bodas over two decades ago has revolutionised the transport industry, especially in remote rural areas.

They have provided a reliable and fast mode of transportation in urban centres owing to the fact that they are not only swift, but also reliable in times of emergencies. Where vehicles get stuck in traffic jams or can't access certain areas, it is motorcycles that slither their way through with ease.

Many people have now embraced the use of this mode of transport which has become more popular.

However, with all the technological advancement, some operators have stuck with the original boda bodas, bicycle taxis.


In Busia, for instance, bicycle taxis when not carrying people around, are used by small-scale traders at the Kenya-Uganda border to ferry goods like cooking oil, wheat flour, milk and soap.

There are about 15, 000 bicycles taxis in Busia County drawn from 14 Saccos, according to Busia United Boda boda Association Chairman Eric Makokha.

The Nation caught up with some operators who revealed why they are stuck with bicycle taxis.

Wilfred Barasa, 40, from Bugeng’i in Matayos sub-County has been a bicycle boda boda operator since he was 23 years old.

Five years after dropping out of school (Nambale AC Secondary), Mr Barasa took a personal decision by making his way to Nairobi in search of employment after it was apparent no one could help him further his education after his father died.

However, he ended up a frustrated young man after few months without a stable income that relegated him to performing odd jobs like washing cars and carrying luggage in the Central Business District.

He decided enough was enough and headed back to Busia town in 1995 where he used the little savings he had to repair his uncle’s old bicycle, rolled up his sleeves and started his journey as a boda boda rider.

“I didn’t have the privilege to join college after dropping out secondary school. I joined this business to fend for myself and by then it was still popular means of transport. We need also to come to agreement that all of us can’t own motorcycles.

“As a young man and new in the field, getting clients was difficult since most of the stages were somehow ‘owned’ by few individuals and any presence of a new comer was seen as encroachment. Sometimes I could go back home without a shilling having spent the whole day on an empty stomach,” he told the Nation.

Over the years, he has got used to his new venture and with other like-minded riders they were able to form a table banking and merry go round groups that have tremendously improved their lives.

“The good thing with this business is that you will never sleep hungry if you are disciplined. I have learnt through the years that the art of saving should be part and parcel of anyone venturing as a boda boda rider. I now own a home, have a family and a plot from this job. I am planning to venture into taxi business in the near future,” he added.

Another rider, Benson Wabwire said: “I have been able to venture into poultry from this simple mode of transport. Returns are low and that has forced us to complement our work with other income generating initiatives.”

Wabwire, an operator at Soko Posta stage,  said in a good month he rakes at least Sh 6,500.

Anthony Ong’ala, 27, from Adungosi Teso North Sub-county says frustrations that came with job pushed him to start picking and dropping passengers within town. He commutes daily to Busia town about 25 kilometres from his village.

“After trying my hand in a number of menial jobs in the village, my friend advised me to join a local Sacco called Chamu. I am gearing towards owning my motorcycle since bicycles are tiresome and you can’t go for long distances or hilly places,” said the father of two boys.

However, a section of riders said financial constraint is the reason they are stuck with the bicycle taxis. When asked why they have not taken advantage of available loaning facilities to enable them acquire motorcycles, they said past experiences with Saccos have discouraged them.

“We are ready to move to the next level.  We have tried to form sacco’s but at the end of the day our money is embezzled by the same people we put in office to foster our prosperity agenda. There was a case where a member’s name was erased from the organisations’ register yet he had fulfilled his remittance obligations,” said Hesbon Odhiambo who operates at Tesia Stage in Busia town.

William Owino, 35, from Tanga Kona and Vincent Wabwire, 30, from Burumba ward in Busia town said they are stuck with the bicycles it still enjoys a special market niche, especially for those who wish not to use motorcycles.

“With accidents associated with motorcycles, ranging from reckless driving to poor road conditions, some customers are stuck with us. These esteemed customers who prefer bicycles over motorcycles are the reason why we are still in business,” said Owino.

National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) data showed the number of motorcyclists who have died on the road this year has surpassed that of last year.

Crash statistics by NTSA showed that more than 203 motorcyclists died compared to 173 who lost their lives by May 5, 2017.

A total of 3,850 people have lost their lives in road crashes since the year began.

On the flip side, Boda boda riders have been listed as the leading traffic offenders in the county by the authority forming the highest number of casualties.

The main cause of fatalities has been blamed on disobedience of traffic rules.

The WHO’s 2016 Road Safety Report show that wearing a good quality helmet can reduce the risk of death by 40 per cent and the risk of serious injuries by 70 per cent. The report also notes that most motorcycle deaths are as a result of head injuries.

Despite the gloomy data, the boda boda industry is still growing.

In addition to direct employment, it is also linked to enterprises which provide income generation opportunities with most neighbourhoods having at least one bicycle repair garage with one or more mechanics.

These garages are in turn linked to hardware shops stocking bicycle parts.

In addition, ‘stages’ often host kiosks and shops which sell a variety of foodstuffs and merchandise.

However, regulatory and support measures are needed to streamline operations. For instance, bicycle taxi operators complain that they are not allowed everywhere in major towns leading to unnecessary traffic jams.

Boda boda operators face many physical and safety obstacles, ranging from lack of bicycle lanes, and official designated stages.

Mr Makokha, the boda boda association chairman, said that the bicycle taxis should be supported by the relevant public authorities.

“Facilities such as boarding and alighting stages should be shared with cyclists if new ones cannot be established. County governments should also ensure all bicycle taxis have at least third party insurance cover and also reinvigorate operator associations in places where they are not active.”