UNRA has several ferries which form part of it’s the national road network. Ferries which are regarded as part and parcel of the road are important in connecting the road network from the land above the waters of rivers or lakes. Ferries are specialized vessels that transport people, motor vehicles and goods across water bodies, without which bridges would be required or communities across the water bodies would remain unserved. Because ferries are part of the road, currently their services are free.
Ferries were introduced in Uganda in early 1950s with the first on Lake Victoria and later on various points along the river Nile. They have since then been in operation although most times they were quite unreliable. When a ferry breaks down, communities that use it undergo transportation challenges with many people getting cut off from the major road network leaving many stranded. One of the major road routes that have had ferries services in is the Bukakata-Bugoma route that on Lake Victoria that connect to Kalangala islands from the mainland Masaka district. Bukakata landing site is found approximately 25km from Kako along Masaka-Kampala highway. The landing site is the main gateway of Kalangala to the mainland, the other being Nakiwogo near Entebbe There are two ferries on this route at the moment with each plying four times a day making eight trips for the two vessels in a day.
MV (Marine Vehicle) Ssese was procured in 2013 while MV pearl started its operations in 2010. On average each ferry carries up to 30 vehicles of small and light trucks and up to 80 passengers all of them seated. Standing passengers are strictly not allowed. MV Ssese and MV pearl with the latter having slightly bigger capacity than the former move in opposite directions taking between 30 minutes to one hour to arrive at either Bukakata or Bugoma in alternate fashion. There is strict observance of procedures and rules while aboard the ferry and throughout the entire seven nautical miles journey on water. Pregnant women and the elderly are encouraged to sit at the lower levels while the energetic persons can sit at the upper decks which allows them to enjoy the short journey before they are welcomed to either side of the docking station. Taking pictures is restricted although one can be allowed depending on how they can convince the vessel operators.
Both vessels are operated by Kalangala infrastructure services (KIS) , a private company contracted by UNRA for this operation. According to one of the officers URSSI talked to, the ferries operate regularly between 7:00 am – 6:00pm everyday Monday to Saturday. However on Sunday, each of the ferries makes only two journeys. The ferries are strictly forbidden to travel at night. Therefore in a sense although the ferry is part of the road, it is not like any other road because it closes. The good thing about this landing site is that the ferries keep time taking off and docking at stipulated times except when there is bad weather. Strong lake waves have been reported to slow down the speeds of the ferries. The ferries undergo maintenance. When one is being serviced, which often takes a few days, the other is operational. This, as expected leads to overcrowding and scramble for space during loading time. Overall, URSSI was pleased with the services, performance and safety of the ferry services from Bukakata to Bugoma.