You might start off with grand ambitions to get around in Kigali, local style, using the city buses but this will probably quickly disappear once you realize how convenient taking a mototaxi is. You’ll probably find yourself zipping around on the cheap and cheerful mototaxis which will become progressively less cheap as you take more and more of them and less cheerful as you hear about friends’ accidents. But they’re the most obvious and convenient way to get around Kigali and they even have their own ill-fitting, vision-impairing, semi-gross helmet for you in a fashionable selection of bright blue, red or green.
Motos are a bit intimidating at first, but when you get used to taking them (and accept that we must all die sooner or later anyway), they’re are a formidable way of getting around the city. ‘Moto’ is the term used for all motorized taxi-bikes, from the tiny blue mopeds that ply the suburbs (only short distances) to the larger green and yellow motorcycles that can tackle any road in town.
Mototaxi drivers spend their days driving all over the city, with that spare helmet in tow and a green vest on to identify themselves to you. The vests aren’t really that necessary, though, since it seems as though anyone on a motorbike is a taxi driver. They zip all around at all hours and will happily stop to collect you at the flick of your hand and/or a friendly ‘tsssss’ noise sent in their direction. Transportation on demand! How can you beat that? Well, you can’t. A word of warning: after leaving Rwanda and heading back home, you might find it frustrating to find that you can’t get a ride from anywhere to anywhere at any time for under $2. Public transport? Expensive taxis? Parking? Lame.
Safety & Rules
Hopping on a mototaxi is probably the most dangerous thing you’ll do in Kigali. The drivers are mostly good, but there’s always a risk when you’re speeding down the road on a motorbike. When you put on the helmet it’s probably a bad sign if it’s completely cracked and then taped back up (although wearing a taped up helmet with zero visibility adds a certain element of excitement to the journey). Likewise, it might be wise to wait for another driver if you encounter a helmet with blood spatters on it.
Don’t bother trying to get your driver to take two people as it’s illegal and a tight squeeze. Though some friends have stories of riding two to a bike, I have yet to experience this rare phenomena. Plus, depending how far back the driver sits, the bike seats are sometimes not even big enough to accommodate a single passenger comfortably so putting two people on could be a squishy experience for the person in the middle and a terrifying experience for the person on the back.
If you’re riding at night, check to see that the headlight works. If you’re travelling alone, know that there have been incidents of sexual assault and robbery. They’re very uncommon, but it does happen so follow your instincts. All moto drivers have a number on their helmet and taking note of this will help you identify them should something sinister go down.
Deciding on a Fair Fare
Mototaxi fares aren’t set in stone and are completely open to bargaining. There is a definite muzungu/local pricing system in place and you’ll have to bargain hard sometimes to get a decent fare. If you know the price and have taken the route before, don’t be afraid to walk away and try another driver. If the price you’re asking is fair, the driver you’re leaving will often cave and tell you to get on his bike. If he looks insulted or drives away then your price is probably too low. But there’s always another driver nearby to try again with so wait for another driver and work your way up. He’ll counter with an offer and hopefully you’ll meet at a fair price for both of you. Be aware, though, that some drivers will ask crazy prices up front, some will ask for only a couple of hundred above the fair price and the very rare driver will actually offer up a good price from the start. This makes knowing what to offer with fairly difficult, but you’ll get the hang of it eventually. Learning a few key words in Kinyarwandan will help as will being friendly.
Once you’re in the city for awhile you’ll get an idea of what it costs to go where and many people take the approach of paying that price on arrival without bargaining up front. Though this might result in some quarreling at the end of your journey, it also gives the impression you know what you’re talking about. If you already know what the journey should cost, just hop on the moto with a smile, casually tell the moto driver where you’re going, and fasten your helmet. When you get off, just hand him the money and hold out your hand for change. Most likely he’ll assume you know what you’re doing and give you a fair price. If he tries to charge more, simply laugh (kindly) and say you know the price or that you ‘always pay less’. He’ll probably just laugh back and give you the correct change.
Until you are more familiar with the moto costs, expect to pay around Rwf 500 to 700 for most journeys. Never pay more than Rwf 1,000 during day time. The drivers do charge more late at night (especially outside muzungu packed waterholes like Papyrus and Cadillac) but if I ever hear you paying more than Rwf 1,500, I will hang my head in shame.
When it rains the moto drivers disappear so if you can find one you’ll end up paying more than normal. Fares at night also tend to be a bit higher.
Besides knowing how to acquire a moto and avoid being ripped off, the most important thing with this form of transportation is obviously how to look cool. Unless you’re wearing a koala bear costume, please don’t grab your moto-driver around the waist. If you feel like holding on to something, there are handles behind the seat. Also, make sure your feet are resting on the metal plateaus on each side, not dangling around. When you get off, be careful not to burn your leg on the hot metal pipes (always get on and off the bike on the left side to avoid the hot, painful metal tube that has scarred many a new arrival), and if you’re having a tough time opening the helmet (the locks do get stuck sometimes) maybe you should start working on that before the moto has pulled over? Having your moto-driver help you with the helmet does not look cool regardless of which costume you wear.
Lastly, make sure you relax and enjoy the ride! This is definitely my favorite form of transportation, and on hot Kigali days there can be nothing better than to cruise along the newly paved city streets, taking in the beautiful views with wind in your hair and music streaming from your iPod (or any other mp3 player of course; i am in no way attempting product placement here…)