Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Uganda traffic safety, part 2

Shanta Devarajan has an interesting post on empowering matatu (minivan taxi) riders over at African Can. Matatus are dangerous in Kenya, accounting for 20% of traffic accidents. Two researchers studied a simple intervention, putting posters up that encourage customers to complain about bad driving, and found a 25% reduction in accidents (preliminary results here).

I love this intervention, especially since I was thinking of doing one as well, though not related to driving but sitting safety and comfort. Here's a view of a matatu from the back row:

There are three seats per row, but the operators shove in 4 or more people. It makes for a very miserable ride, and its illegal because its dangerous in case of an accident, or even just during normal driving. The driver has to bribe police at checkpoints to let this happen.

One thing I've noticed few Ugandas do is complain about this. I say few and not zero because on an occasion or two that I decided to complain, another voice would come up. Once, I suggested to the conductor that he "sit on the roof" if he wanted to pack more people in. He didn't like that very much, but a few people behind me laughed. From then on, he only stuck more people in the first row.

(For a discussion of how a foreigner once tackled the problem, check out an older post from Scarlet Lion. I disagree with the conclusions, but its a good discussion.)

Our complaints did little to change the total number of people in the vehicle, but what if the collective action problem, discussed in the driving intervention, can be overcome with a few more voices? Most Ugandas do not like to stand up to drivers, perhaps because they don't want a confrontation, but some will stand up, and that can lead to more and more doing the same.

1 comment:

Tumwijuke Mutambuka said...

Most Ugandans are not openly confrontational. We will complain long and loud, but only in the safety of our homes. I guess it comes from years of being told we had no rights but those with the 'authority' gave us.

That said, my taxi route - Kampala-Entebbe - is full of passangers who will not stand for poor driving, over loading and over pricing. I was pleasantly surprised when last week, during an early morning rainstorm, the passangers in my taxi demanded not to be driven at more than 50 kmph. They said the taxi was old, the tyres were tired and the road was slippery. The driver complied.

Things are changing.

- Ugandan Insomniac