Dar es Salaam. Government’s silence on whether it would subsidise the Dar es Salaam Bus Rapid Transit (Dart) project is threatening smooth take off and sustainability of the multibillion shillings worth plan aimed at easing public transport in the city.
It emerged yesterday as members of the public and operators of the service debated the proposed fare rates ahead of the start of the running of the operations next week.
The Uda-RT proposed fare rates range between Sh700 and Sh1,400. The public, however, roundly rejected them at a public hearing where city residents were invited to air their views on the matter.
Dart argues that the proposed rates were the minimum possible passengers have to pay to make operations of the facility smooth.
The public argued that in order to have a form of public transport that did not exclude a section of the population, some governments around the world partly or wholly subsidised the services in order to strike the balance between making them commercially viable and making them affordable.
Dart acting managing director David Mgwassa said at the hearing that there was no single cent they were expecting from the government in form of subsidy in the running of the service. He said experts had worked on the culculations and came up with rates that would ensure operation costs were covered.
During a Sumatra Consumer Consultative Council (CCC) hearing yesterday, transport stakeholders unanimously rejected the Sh1,400, Sh1,200 and Sh700 proposed rates.
There was a common view that the hiked fare were unjustified and would lead to the rise of the cost of living for ordinary wananchi.
A poverty assessment report for Tanzania Mainland by the World Bank shows that about 70 per cent of Tanzanians continue to live with less than $2 (Sh4,400) per day, with an important proportion of the population remaining vulnerable to poverty.
“Currently, an income of an average Tanzanian stands at Sh1,300 a day. The new fare means a common Tanzanian was going to spend his total daily income on transport only,” said Twaweza director Aidan Eyakuze.
Asked on whether the government has any plan to subsidise the project, Minister of State in the President’s Office responsible for Regional Administration, Local Government, Civil Service and Good Governance, Mr George Simbachawene, said he had not received a report on the view-gathering meeting, but promised to come up with government’s stand on the matter today.
At the opening of the meeting, Mr Mgwassa spent most of his time telling participant why the agency was proposing such fares, saying in many countries where such projects has been successful such as Bogota and Ethiopia, the projects were subsidized by the State.
Mr Mgwassa argued further that the proposed fare rates were reached with the assumption that the buses would be running while being fully packed all the time.
He said that since the government was not paying anything in the project, it meant the project would have to depend on its own sources entirely hence justifying the rates.
“You should understand that we are going to employ people who will be carrying out all these things that we are talking about which means they ought to be paid salaries,” he said.
The executive secretary for (CCC), Dr Oscar Kikoyo, said the council was safisfied that the proposals were unjustified.
“We had expected the agency to come up with proposals indicating bus fares lower than those charged by regular commuter buses, commonly referred to as Daladalas. Their rates range between Sh400, and Sh600,” he said.
He said there was need for Dart to let other stakeholders see the contract it signed with the government, so that all facts would be known including how long the agency would be running the project instead of leaving others in the dark.
“It does not make sense to claim that a brand new bus will require huge amounts of money to operate, this is not possible unless they want to tell us that the buses are reconditioned,” he said.
Almost every participant who had a chance to comment on the proposed fares expressed concern with the way the whole project has been run with others going to the extent of asking who the owner was.
“How can our fellow Tanzanians who understand our situation propose such rates for a public bus project,” querried a participant who introduced herself as a resident of Mbezi.
In his remarks the chairman for the passengers watchdog (Chakua), Mr Hassan Mchanjama, said Dart has the ability to charge fares lower than those of Daladalas arguing that they would not be surprised to discover that the Udart investor had not conducted a thorough research on operation before coming with the proposals.
He said people had already contributed to the project and there was no need for them to pay such a huge amount of money as fare.
“Dart buses are going to operate on the infrastructure that has been built by people themselves. How come now they should be charged such rates?” he asked.
Others were of the view that the proposed fares were going against the free education order by President John Magufuli.
They argued that the President had ordered free education for all from Standar One to Form Four, but now charging a student Sh700 would mean that in one year a parent or guardian would part with over Sh200,000 to help his son or daughter travel to and from school.
In essence, such rates contradicted the free education pledge, the argued.