Rare ‘planes’ on Tanzania roads

Saturday July 25 2015

A traveller inside the new Shabiby Luxury coach

A traveller inside the new Shabiby Luxury coach which operates between Dodoma and Dar es Salaam.  The cabin accessories in the bus are even much better than the average budget airlines. PHOTO | EMMANUEL HERMAN 

By Syriacus Buguzi, The Citizen Reporter

Dar es Salaam. Travellers on some of Tanzania’s highways will soon be spoilt for choice, with transport companies moving to introduce some of the most luxurious buses the East Africa region can offer.

With an apparent growing number of picky long distance travellers willing to pay more for life’s little luxuries, investors are quickly moving in to tap into the demand.

And with rising competition among the bus company operators, it dictates that those who respond swiftly to the sensitivity of the choosy travellers are most likely to hold sway on the road and rip big in return for their investments.  

Ratco Express and Shabiby Line companies are front runners who have recently introduced on the road high end buses, with unparalleled luxury so far.

The two firms have brought on to the road what would be the equivalent of that aeroplane feel for those who have flown around.

The cabin accessories in the re-configured new buses are even much better than the average budget airlines whose advantage would remain the relatively shorter period it takes to reach one’s destination for a pricey air ticket.

With the continued improvement of road infrastructure, it is likely that most operators will find it attractive to invest in better road transport to offer more comfort and minimise road carnage blamed on packed old buses traversing the expansive Tanzanian territory.   

Travellers along the Dodoma-Dar es Salaam and Dar es Salaam-Tanga routes may already know what this new verve in town is all about. Shabiby and Ratco have deployed the most state-of-the art buses on these routes.

Shabiby’s Chinese made Yutong two-by-one-seat worth Sh566 million made its maiden trip on Tuesday. It departed from Dodoma at 11am, arriving at around 8pm in Dar es Salaam.

It was an exhilarating journey for the passengers in the 34-seater bus, at least according to Ms Neema Senyagwa (27) — one of the travellers and a resident of Dodoma who spoke to The Citizen soon after alighting from the bus at Ubungo Bus Terminal.

“I was treated as if I was in an aircraft,” said an excited Senyagwa as she recalled the services she got at a fare of Sh35,000.

Mr Novatus Daniel (50), a resident of Kurasini in Dar es Salaam who travelled with his two grandchildren from Dodoma, expressed his disappointment with road traffic jams, but he was excited at the nature of the buses and the comfort that he and his family enjoyed.

“I wish the roads were so smooth. I would have counted this as the most enjoyable journey I ever had by bus to Dar,” noted Mr Daniel.

A spot-check by The Citizen revealed the sheer beauty and exquisite interior of the bus. Services ranged from the access to free wireless Internet to an inside toilets for long and short calls.

The passengers enjoyed wide and comfy seats with adjustable headrests. Each seat had a personal entertainment system, including a separate LCD screen fitted with players. The seats were also equipped with power ports for headphones, charging mobile phone-handsets and other audio entertainment.

The hostesses served passengers with snacks and soft drinks as the bus moved, according to those who spoke to The Citizen. There were feature trays fixed at the seatbacks, where one could place food containers. The trays could also be folded down to form a small table for reading.

According to Shabiby Line Operations Manager David Lusingo, the company would start providing a full lunch box on the menu when the bus fares rise from the current starting offer of Tsh 35,000 to a higher price that would be determined by the company.

“Depending on how the customers will respond to the services, we will start offering a full menu right from our Hotel in Dodoma, among other things,” said the Manager during an interview with The Citizen in Dar es Salaam.

If not for the troubling traffic jams along Morogoro Road, Mr Lusingo believes that the journey from Dodoma to Dar — about 486 kilometers -  could have been more enjoyable with the buses.

He said that Shabiby Line Company has introduced four of the modern buses as part of the wider investment plans in the luxury transport services. More routes would be opened in the near future, from Dodoma to Mbeya Region and Arusha, according to the manager.

Despite being the home to Parliament and a rapidly growing city, Dodoma has an underdeveloped air transport system. The Dodoma airport is the sole landing site for small air crafts that are mostly hired at high prices by business executives and politicians intending to travel to the capital.

At present, flights by private small chartered planes used by air travellers,  have been complained about high fares charged between Dar es Salaam and Dodoma. The government has since said that good road conditions were a better alternative for people to use vehicles and buses instead of air transport.

Mr Lusingo told The Citizen that Shabiby Line was exploring a new business niche in the luxurious buses so as to attract a class of travellers wishing to cut the cost of airline travel to the country’s political capital.

“The challenging air transport system was one of the reasons that informed our decision to invest in luxurious buses,” said Mr Lusingo and added, “We are still looking into ways to exploit more business opportunities in that aspect.”

The company has ordered 15 more modern buses which would be deployed in the planned routes, he said.