Building East Africa’s most efficient public transit network

Hilary Zainab, Dar es Salaam Community Manager
Dar es Salaam, 13 November 2015

In order to meet Dar es Salaam’s increased demand for public transport and urban mobility, the Government of Tanzania has been implementing a number of key infrastructure projects aimed at decreasing congestion and opening up suburban areas to the central business district.

According to East Africa Business Week, of the cities five million residents, 70% of them depend on a system that is unreliable, unsafe, and inefficient. The African Development Bank (AfDB) recently announced approval of $141.71 million in funding to support the second phase of development for the Dar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System. The BRT is a piece of the wider plan to improve transportation infrastructure in the countries commercial capital.

Dar es Salaam municipal authorities and the Government of Tanzania continue to work towards the goal of developing the most efficient public transportation system in the East African Community. In 2012, DART began operating a commuter rail, the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. Targeting suburban commuters, the rail line operates during morning and evening hours, primarily servicing workers heading to the city center.

Prior to launching the commuter rail, the only form of “public” transportation consisted in truth, of a privately owned network of daladalas, the local term for the mini-buses, which have become ubiquitous transportation in Africa. According to a study undertaken by the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) in 2014, there were 3,700 individuals who owned the 6,820 registered daladalas operating on the cities 362 licensed routes.

The daladala system faces many challenges, including poor vehicle upkeep, lack of control, no formal schedules, long wait times on major routes, overcrowding, and significant jams at bus stops. To be accomplished over six phases, the DART plan includes 130 kilometers of new bus transportation corridors, 18 terminals, and 228 stations. As a way of distinguishing itself from the current daladala system, DART proposes to use high capacity buses that meet environmental and international service standards. The first 138 buses for the BRT system arrived in Dar in late September from China; however, they faced challenges in clearing customs as loan monies were not readily allocated.

Another challenge faced by the BRT system is to increase knowledge among commuters about the benefits of using these newer networks. In October, a joint workshop organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit Agency (DART) sought to educate the public and key stakeholders on the impact that transportation has on greenhouse gas emissions. In Tanzania, the largest contributor of transportation related emissions comes from passenger cars and light-duty trucks, which account for over half of the emissions from this sector. The BRT is seen in part as one strategy to help reduce the number of older cars that contribute significantly to environmental pollution.

Traffic congestion in Dar is not going to disappear overnight; however, the commitment to establishing a model network in East Africa and the wider sub-Saharan region has placed Tanzania at the forefront of a clean energy revolution poised to transform the African subcontinent.

Photo: Niklas Nilsson Kreu

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