Feature: Cycling re-emerges as favored transport means in Ugandan capital amid COVID-19

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KAMPALA, July 1 (Xinhua) -- When Daron Bartlett, a digital strategist at one of the media houses in Uganda, bought his sports bicycle last October, he was not thinking of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Five months later, when Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni declared a lockdown and ban on public transport to curb the spread of the virus, limited options were left for essential workers. Bicycle riders like Bartlett came to appreciate the importance of their investment in the transport means.

"At the time I bought my bicycle, they were not as expensive as they are today. I used about 100 U.S. dollars to buy it but I'm told such bikes as mine go for as much as 200 dollars due to COVID-19," Bartlett told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"Those who used to ride for fun have come to realize that a bicycle is must-have for those who are able to ride instead of using public transport," he added.

According to Bartlett, after lockdown in March, he had to pay 11 dollars for transport to and from office, up from 1.5 dollars he used to pay.

"I had to rethink my travelling plan. I had to use my bicycle to reach work at a reduced cost. The bicycle is now more valued than ever before," Bartlett said.

As he rode from his home in Kyaliwajjala, about 12km from the city center, to work, Bartlett said he would find along several other people riding to town. This was not the situation before the pandemic.

Wilfred Nshemeza, 58, a carpenter in Kampala, shares the same thoughts as Bartlett.

When COVID-19 broke out, he was in the process of negotiating for a contract with a retired government worker who lives 35km from Nshemeza's workshop.

"I live in Kibiri (a suburb in Kampala) while my contractor stays in Bulenga. That distance was too much for me to walk and yet the president had closed public transport," Nshemeza said.

"I went to my neighbor and borrowed his ordinary bicycle that helped me to go and negotiate the contract. When I came back home, I almost fell sick because I had spent years without riding," he added.

"I bought my own second-hand ordinary bicycle at 60 dollars. Life became easy for me as I got used to riding. The muscle aches have since disappeared," he said.

The country's public transport has resumed and taxis are allowed to operate, but Nshemeza has vowed to stay loyal to his bicycle.

"Can you imagine I used more than double the amount on transport yet before COVID-19 it was very cheap! Let me use the money to buy better spare parts for my bicycle rather than waste it on taxi fare," Nshemeza said.

Since the easing of public transport restrictions, transport fares in Uganda have more than doubled as taxis carry one third of the total passengers they used to carry before.

Nshemeza and Bartlett are just a few of the city dwellers who have resorted to using bicycles as a common mode of transport.

Security Minister Gen. Elly Tumwine is one of the high profile citizens who rides to work once in a while.

He amused many when he arrived in time using his bicycle for the national launch of a government event in April.

Since then, he sometimes rides his bicycle to commute to work.

Amanda Ngabirano, a university lecturer and urban planner in Kampala, welcomed the idea of many people resorting to using bicycles to go to work.

Posting about riding on her Facebook account, Ngabirano said: "It's simple, yet powerful. It's not about poverty, it's about freedom and options. It's a mode of transport. It's about sports and fun. It's about education, health and wealth. It's business."

The university lecturer added: "It's quiet and harmless to the environment. It's for both the rich and the poor, the young and old, men and women, boys and girls. And we are saying it's that important to have its right space in government mobility expenditure."

Bartlett testifies that apart from helping him to cut on his daily expenditure, riding has helped him to cut his weight from 87kg to 81kg.

"We do not know when the COVID-19 situation will end. It is better to go for options that do not involve spending on transport. I advise workers to invest in a cheap bicycle," Bartlett said as he parked his bike in the office compound and proceeded to his office. "They will thank me later." Enditem

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