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Lessons from Dar on unclogging city traffic jams

A Dar Rapid Transit bus (ART) officials say the network, which started with 50,000 passengers per day, is currently ferrying an average of 200,000 passengers per day. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A Dar Rapid Transit bus (ART) officials say the network, which started with 50,000 passengers per day, is currently ferrying an average of 200,000 passengers per day. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

Nairobi, where at least one third of the gross domestic product is generated, is faced with infrastructure challenges that threaten to slow down the economic growth through traffic snarl-ups if not addressed.

The Kenyan capital city, which was ranked top among 15 African cities studied by the World Bank for having the slowest traffic, has a lot to learn from Dar es Salaam after rafts of public transport reforms began taking shape in the Tanzanian city.

“The prevalence of expansion, particularly leapfrog development is just one pattern that makes urban commuting challenging in African cities. Another is deficient transportation infrastructure.

Traffic congestion cripples the economy in cities such as Nairobi, where the average journey-to-work time is one of the longest among 15 cities studied,” the World Bank wrote in the February report.

Dar-es Salaam, which is known to have had one of the regions worst traffic jams with its narrow roads, is fast changing into a flowing city and a lot of lessons can be learnt from the slow transformation of Dar through its new Bus Rapid Transit system.

The BRT which is only one year old in the coastal city is the talk in any regional urban transport discourse, with lots of praises on how it has changed the experience of city dwellers in its first phase of implementation.

Faced with an urbanisation rate of 7.7 per cent and a swelling population that is estimated to hit 10 million by 2030, the city planners had to think fast on how to save the situation. With a ready port to import cars, the city’s vehicular growth stands at 19 per cent.

Its 62 per cent of residents using the public transport means commonly referred to as daladala were usually stuck in traffic, spending an average of two hours to move from one part of the city to another.

After considering the four options of a light rail, underground metro, Bus Rapid Transit system and an urban rail, the city authorities settled for the BRT.

The concept was visualised in 2002 and five years later, a detailed study had been done with six corridors mapped for the BRT. A new agency, Dar Rapid Transit -DART was established in 2007 to oversee the new transit system within the city.

Dedicated lane

The corridor features a 130.3 kilometre of dedicated lane for the buses with 18 terminals and 228 stations. A new fibre optics connection was incorporated along  the line  which is strictly prohibited from use by any other motorists including motorbikes.

The World Bank- funded project is in Phase One which is already operational and has 21 kilometres comprising a main trunk and feeder roads.

The fully dedicated right of way enables the buses to move freely and faster as passengers have off board fare collection, meaning no one pays the driver or the conductor and saves time taken to collect bus fare.

The passengers also have the option to pay through cards at the ticket machines before boarding as well as to use mobile top- ups.

The design has left no steps at boarding and alighting as the boarding areas are elevated for ease of the process. All the intersections were redesigned to avoid any delays for the express bus which makes very few stops on major junctions, with controlled traffic lights.

There are 140 buses plying different city routes controlled by an elaborate Information and communication Technology, ensuring there is real time visibility of the buses, route planning and scheduling to avoid any delays.

The buses also announce stations and the authorities believe a lot has been achieved in dealing with the traffic menace of Dar.

The public service vehicle operators were brought together and an operator company formed where they own shares.

They have appointed an operator, a ticket controller and an investment bank that has left the service running professionally to avoid the chaos associated with the usual public transport.

The inclusion of former operators has made the transition smooth, with those who opted out of the business simply selling their stakes.