September 26, 2020

Helmets Now Mandatory for ‘Abanyonzi’ Bicycle Taxis

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Hundreds if not thousands of bicycle taxis operating across Rwanda must now buy helmets

Government has announced a radical new policy on ‘Abanyonzi’, a common mode of transport by bicycles in rural areas and urban neighborhoods.

In cabinet resolutions released at 2am Saturday from the late Friday meeting, the riders are now allowed to return on the roads – since they were put away in March due to COVID-19. However, they will no longer operate as they have ever since this form of transport emerged many year ago.

Resolution 2, Item G on the cabinet statement reads: “Bicycle taxis (abanyonzi) will resume in permitted areas of operation in accordance with COVID-19 preventive measures as well as other precautionary safety measures including wearing helmets.”

This announcement is such a big shift and will affect hundreds, who are mostly poor attempting to earn a living. With requirement to wear helmets, the next issue likely to arise is mass confiscations of the bicycles for riding without the headgear.

Bicycle taxis operate in residential neighborhoods. The two-wheeled carries a single passenger, and as per the new rule, must also wear a helmet like it is with Moto taxis.

The bicycle taxis also operate as delivery services for homes, usually asked to deliver items from neighborhood markets.

The ‘Abanyonzi’ sector is also a powerful political base as it emerged in 2014. In mid of that year, Police banned the bicycle taxis in all urban areas across the country – forcing thousands into poverty and relocation back to their villages.

Police said at the time that bicycle taxis were responsible for many avoidable accidents. The bicycles were said to be many on urban roads, often fighting for space on roads with vehicles and Moto taxis.

Weeks later, after massive public expression of displeasure mainly via local radio call-ins, the intelligence apparatus may have tip off the government of growing anti-government sentiment.

In a speech in Parliament at swearing of new cabinet appointees on August 18, 2014, Kagame said he didn’t agree with notion that bicycle taxis were causing accidents.

“If you are banning bicycles today, next time you may decide to ban pedestrians,” said Kagame. “All modes of transport can coexist. What is necessary is setting up mechanisms that allow for the coexistence.”

With this statement, President Kagame opened a Can for another costly government program. Roads in Kigali and some upcountry towns were dug up to put cycling lanes. Roads had to be redone afresh, a scheme which now requires that every new road must have a cycling lane.

This Karongi town in western Rwanda. Before 2014, this road had no cycling lane. It had to be put when the road was refurbished, making the touristic town even more attractive

Today, these lanes have beautified these cities. The costs involved – usually with such large-scale projects, get asked at the beginning. But eventually everyone is overwhelmed by the beautiful sight and forget the taxes put there.

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