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In Uganda, The Fastest Public Transport Is DIY


Stand on almost any corner in Kampala, Uganda and you'll be swarmed by a buzzing throng of men on motorcycles. These are the bota botas, the country's DIY public transportation system. Hop on and for a dollar or two you can go pretty much anywhere you want. During a recent visit to Uganda, Julie Caine of member station KALW, took a ride.


JULIE CAINE, BYLINE: In Kampala it's hard to cross the road, let alone cross town. Cars, trucks, minivans and the occasional cow compete with a constant crush of pedestrians. That's where the bota bota comes in. Today I'm taking one to meet a friend for lunch. She's given me a helmet. Bota botas are cheap and efficient, but they're not exactly safe. She's also given me a landmark, a gas station, so I can tell the driver where I want to go. Can you take me to City Oil?

AZFAR: Yeah.

CAINE: Not very far. Can you do for three?

AZFAR: Oil City?

CAINE: Yeah.

AZFAR: You don't want to give me five?

CAINE: Eh. I have three.

AZFAR: (Unintelligible). OK.

CAINE: We're bargaining for a price that ends up being around $1.50. This driver, whose name is Azfar (ph), tells me that after paying for upkeep and gas, he makes around $15 a day. Is that enough money or no?

AZFAR: No, no, it's not enough. Well, because...

CAINE: Drivers are mostly rural migrants, who come to the capital with no experience navigating city traffic. The business model started along Uganda's borders, where people hire motorcycles to drive them to, say Kenya - border border or boda boda. Women tend to ride side-saddle, knees together holding packages and handbags in their laps. I'm not that brave. I put my helmet on and climb aboard. I think I'm going to ride like a man, OK?

AZFAR: Yeah.

CAINE: Yeah. So we're driving right in between cars. We weave in and out of snarled traffic, squeezing between giant diesel trucks and deep potholes. No street signs, no sidewalks. It's terrifying and exhilarating all at once. And then we arrive. OK. Hey, thank you. That was a nice ride.

AZFAR: Thank you for coming here in Uganda. I'm happy you have supported me in my job. Thank you very much. Stay longer.

CAINE: I do want to stay longer and what I really want to do is get back on and keep riding the streets of Kampala. For NPR News, I'm Julie Caine.


MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie Caine
Julie Caine is senior editor for NPR's Throughline. An award-winning editor, reporter and audio producer, Caine's heart is in her ears. She led podcasting and on-demand audio at KQED in San Francisco, overseeing strategy, new show development and a vibrant podcast portfolio, including The Bay, Truth Be Told and Rightnowish. She helped found Jetty Studios, an international podcast unit for the Al Jazeera Media Network, where she launched Closer Than They Appear and Game of Our Lives, and developed The Take. She's a founding producer and editor on The Stoop and The Specialist podcasts, and was managing producer for Crosscurrents at KALW Public Radio, a springboard for shows like 99% Invisible, Snap Judgment, The Intersection, and Kamau Right Now. She believes deeply in Grace Paley's maxim that you must be a story listener to be a storyteller.
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