Starting in the early 1960s Uganda developed bicycle-based passenger and small goods carriers. In the early 1990s these were complemented by motorcycle-based versions using imported second hand vehicles. Despite their low power (50-75cc engine size) these have greatly extended the range and capacity of services, which are known locally by the generic name boda boda. Both types have now spread over the entire country and the bicycle version into neighbouring Kenya. This paper explains the origins of the boda boda phenomenon, the main factors conditioning development, their regulation and organisation, characteristics of operations, operators and users, and the main problems the industry faces. This analysis is used to examine what benefits the evolution of boda boda services have brought to the poor, and to draw some conclusions.
Boda boda operate where more conventional services are uneconomic or physically impossible. They are found in urban and rural areas where they act primarily as feeder services to the towns or major public transport routes. Because of their limited capacity travel costs per km are 2-7 times those of large capacity buses, but cheaper than sole hire taxis. Their popularity derives from the convenience they offer and ability to meet demands that other services cannot. Whilst the poorest make only occasional use of boda boda, due to low income and high cost constraints, for many they provide identifiable ways of enhancing income by extending the range and intensity of productive activities. Their greatest impact on the poor is through the employment provided. Operators are drawn mostly from the least educated classes and each is shown to support an average of 6 dependants including themselves. With an estimated national fleet of 200,000 bicycle and 70,000-motorcycle boda boda, about 1.6 million, or 7% of the population, depend for part of their livelihood on the industry. The livelihoods of a further 100,000 are supported from the repair and sustenance services the industry needs.
Howe, J. Boda Boda - Uganda’s rural and urban low-capacity transport services. Final report. (2002)