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Tanzania gets on the low-carbon bus to beat traffic jams

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 25 Mar 2014 10:35 GMT
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Commuters squeeze into an overcrowded mini-bus in Tanzania's commercial capital of Dar es Salaam. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Kizito Makoye
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DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation)--Moving from one point to another is a nightmare for most Dar es Salaam residents who have no other choice than to endure agonizingly hot days and long hours stuck in traffic jams.

Tumaini Masawe spends almost four hours daily commuting from home to work. Because of unreliable public transport, she is sometimes forced to board several buses to reach her office in the bustling Kariakoo district.

“Public transport is a big headache to me. If I don’t wake up early, I find no bus at all to take me to work,” she said.

The 38 year-old entrepreneur, who lives in the Kimara area on the outskirts of the city, spends about Tsh. 5000 ($3.20) on fares for buses, mini-buses and three-wheeled mini-taxis daily.

 “Traffic jams are getting worse every single day. Everywhere you go you find people stuck in traffic. There are simply too many cars in this city,” she complained as she joined a stream of other commuters cramming themselves into Daladala mini-buses.

In a bid to decongest the city and reduce growing emissions from traffic, Tanzania is implementing a multi-million-dollar low carbon transport project, which will bring in state-of-the-art high capacity commuter buses to cater for the growing urban population. 

 According to Dar Rapid Transit Agency (DART) Acting Chief Executive Asteria Mlambo, the new system was conceived after officials realized a surge in the city population and people’s urge to own and drive private cars was slowing paralysing traffic flow in the city.

 “We have made a thorough analysis on how to avoid traffic jams, and come up with this idea, which is cheaper, comfortable and affordable to all users,” she said.

EXCLUSIVE LANES

According to Mlambo the Tsh.400 billion ($250 million) project known as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is starting with a six-month programme to create needed infrastructure for the buses, including special lanes along 30 kilometers of the city’s major roads.

She said what will set BRT apart from the current bus service in the city is quality high-capacity buses, exclusive lanes for the buses, cleaner emissions and faster traveling times.

Crucially, analysts say, city officials will also curb the number of buses allowed into the city centre, prioritising large and efficient ones.

According to the Mlambo, the DART CEO, 145 high-capacity buses with the ability to carry over 140 passengers each will be used on seven major routes within the central part of the city and 221 normal buses with the ability to carry 50 passengers each will be used on 15 routes outside the main corridors.

She said most of those vehicle, which will replace over 9,541 small mini-buses and vans currently carrying commuters, will be hybrid buses with conventional engines fixed with an electric device that make them quieter, cleaner and more fuel efficient.  

 According to the country’s directorate of climate change, Tanzania has relatively low emissions of greenhouses gases, both in overall and per capita terms. However, experts say these are likely to increase significantly over the next 20 years, in line with economic and population growth.

 Mlambo said the new transport system, to be run by private investors, should be less expensive for commuters, who will use smart cards instead of cash to board the buses.

Some of the buses under the DART system will start operating this year, before the total completion of the project, she predicted.

THE COST OF TRAFFIC

According to the Confederation of Tanzania Industries, traffic jams are absorbing up to 20 percent of the annual profits of many businesses in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. While traffic congestion affects all sectors of the economy, companies dealing with the supply of perishable consumer goods find it particularly difficult to make timely deliveries.

A confederation survey estimates that about Tsh.4 billion or $ 2.5 million is lost every day to traffic jams in Dar es Salaam.

Speaking with Thomson Reuters Foundation, Dar Regional Commissioner Said Meck Sadick said apart from reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and improving transport, the BRT project could also attract investment and create jobs.

According to Sadick the first phase of BRT project is expected to create 80,000 direct and indirect jobs.

A cross-section of Dar residents have expressed enthusiasm that the new project will help them avoid transportation woes.

“I think it is a good idea. We need to be a little patient while the infrastructure is being fixed (but) I hope this project is going to help us a lot” said Issa Maulid, a resident of the city.

REACTION FROM BUS OWNERS

The Dar Association of Commuter Buses Owners has expressed support for the new system and urged its members to establish a company that would have a stake in DART Bus operations.

“I urge fellow members to come together and form a company that would take the lead in modern bus operations once tenders are floated to the public,” said Sabri Mabrouk, the association’s chairman.

A cross section of Daladala owners who spoke to Thomson Reuters Foundation said they understand the government  will assign them new routes , outside the city centre, to allow DART buses to get smoothly into the city centre.

 “We are not against this move but we urge the government to upgrade all the rough roads that they plan to assign us,” said John Massawe, a mini-bus owner.

NEED FOR MORE ROADS?

According to a traffic congestion study last year by Ardhi University, various initiatives currently underway to minimize congestion in Dar es Salaam, such as increasing number of lanes on roads, and proposals to build new overpasses and underpasses on main road intersections, will not entirely solve the city’s growing transport problems.

According to the study, Dar es Salaam, which is projected to become a megacity by 2034, has a population growth rate of 8 percent, one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.  The city population has surged from 850,000 in 1978 to about 4 million in 2007.

“The rise in population will continue to exert pressure on road infrastructures unless deliberate efforts are made to address traffic congestion," said Robert Kiunsi, an environmental expert from Ardhi University who took part in the study.

According to this study, Dar es Salaam has roads covering only 2.5 percent of the city, compared to recommended guidelines of between 15 and 20 percent.

According to David Mziray, the communications manager with the Surface and Marine Transport Authority, improvement of road infrastructure is the ultimate goal to decongest the city.

Mziray said the total number of motor vehicles in the city is estimated to be 1.2 million including cars, motorcycles and taxis.

Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam.

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