by Ashley Koen
Let me describe for you a typical daily experience using the public transit system in Dar es Salaam. At any given time, any of these things could be happening to or around you.
You’re on the daladala, maybe you’re standing. Chances are you’re sweating in places you never knew you could and you have forgotten about the notion of personal space entirely. A herd of bajaji’s (three-wheeled carts) are off-roading on the shoulder beside you, competing for the next available space to reconnect with the traffic jam you’re sitting in. There’s a man with a fish tank on his head, waltzing through stalled traffic, dodging motorcyclists (known as boda boda’s) who never heed a brake light. There are chickens, naturally. Between your feet, in the seat beside you, or in your neighbour’s handbag. If you were lucky enough to have found a place to sit, there’s probably someone on your lap already.
On average, a commuter in Dar es Salaam spends one working day a week held up in traffic. I can attest to this, having personally spent up to 3 hours in one day going to and from my placement. It is difficult to pinpoint the source of the congestion, as there are so many variables that contribute to the problem. For starters the road conditions are tragic. Currently, only about 120 kilometres of the city’s total road network of about 520 kilometres is tarmacked. There is an overabundance of vehicles, most of which operate below any reasonable standard. Those who own and operate the vehicles are unlikely to have been trained to do so and rarely heed the rules of the road because they do not exist. Take all these factors and then add in the millions of people who are constantly weaving through traffic, selling everything from soda to cigarettes to bed sheets to …goldfish. There is no such thing as the right of way.
According to the Tanzania Legal and Human Rights Centre’s 2012 Human Rights Report, road accidents are the second leading cause of death in Tanzania after malaria. Statistics compiled by the Police Force Traffic Department indicate that a total of 4919 lives were lost due to road accidents in 2012 alone, including those caused by the ‘boda boda’. Road safety in Tanzania is regulated by the Road Traffic Act of 1973, Transportation Licensing Act of 1973 and the National Road Safety Policy of 2009. Within a legal framework, the Central Transportation Licensing Authority (CTLA) and the Surface and Marine Transport Authority (SUMATRA) are the two main enforcement agencies and are responsible for improving the circumstances that the citizens of Dar es Salaam currently face.
That being said, there are efforts underway to improve the conditions of the roads all around the city by introducing a new rapid transit system, also known as DART (Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit System). This initiative involves a six phase project that will build 130 kilometres of road across the city, as well as implement a rapid bus transit system.
So far, the World Bank has provided $200 million USD for the project, with phase one scheduled for completion in 2015. At the moment, the construction does appear to be underway throughout major arteries in the city, but it is really only making things worse by limiting available road space. Phase one of the project will also see the government rid the streets of 1,500 of the city’s 9,000 daladalas. Beginning in July, the government will stop registering and licensing the public commuter mini-buses. Eliminating daladala’s from the roads might be a strategic decision, but there will be thousands of local people affected by a decrease in affordable public transit. This is working under the assumption that the rapid transit system will see a fare increase to a one-way fare of the daladala, which currently sits at around 400 shillings (approximately 0.25 CAD).
It will be interesting to see the evolution of a more efficient transit system in Dar es Salaam, a sprawling city with over 4 million inhabitants, most of whom rely on public transit daily. The DART initiative plans to save the economy billions of shillings that are lost daily through traffic jams, and provide relief to at least 300,000 daily city commuters.