One of the modern buses donated by Japan to OTRACO.
In many other parts of the world, a bus transport company that is subsidized by the government and supported by donors may sound a little odd. But for Burundi, this has been necessary as the country recovers from the effects of many years of social upheaval that has left many people poor and unable to afford vehicular transportation. Hence the support of OTRACO (Burundi Public Transportation Corporation) by the Japan government to revive its fleet of ageing buses that serve the city as well as far-flung parts of Burundi.
This assistance was even more necessary because not many businessmen in Burundi wanted to venture in the transport business. This was especially because most of the roads were in poor condition and maintaining the vehicles would be expensive.
The government of Japan through a grant helped the government of Burundi to purchase 98 buses to ferry passengers at affordable rates to every corner of the country with the main station in Bujumbura. Director General Nzigiyimana Nicodeme says the buses have helped to stabilize the fare charged by commercial bus owners and reduced exploitation of ordinary citizens by private operators. "We charge social rates to the passengers and we always have the poor in mind when setting the rates," he says.
The bus company which has about 100 employees has also been assisted in its operations and technical maintenance and driver training by a team of Japanese experts from whom nationals shall take over after their contracts expire. Part of the training for the locals has been undertaken in Japan and Nzigiyimana says it has been very beneficial to them. "We saw for ourselves how modern transport companies are managed and have introduced most of what we learned here at home. Our technical, finance and route management has been improved with the assistance of the experts."
He says the company has faced many challenges to reach its current status. The road conditions in most parts where they ply are still very poor and the buses wear out quickly. The population served is also very poor and the chances of increasing the fare would automatically lead to reduced business. This would negatively affect the company.
Mr Nzigiyimana envisages a future when the company shall have branches all over the country so that it shall be the transport option for all Burundians. "We hope the general population in the country shall have seen improved income and we shall be able to adjust our fares at par with market rates. In the meantime, we hope the Japanese assistance can be extended a little longer because we still need their support."
Although the company has been making losses for the past several years, it is expected to break even by the end of this year.