Why the traffic jams in Dar are here to stay

Thursday February 20 2014
foleni dar

Just a decade ago, the importation and registration of vehicles was very low compared to the surge recorded between 2008 and 2013. Yet the city’s infrastructure remains the same, with abysmal upgrades marred by lack of finances and poor planning.

Dar es Salaam. Every month, Tanzanians buy an average of 4,500 light vehicles—those with capacity below 12 passengers. The majority are used in Dar es Salaam, according to the latest statistics from the Tanzania Automobile Association (TMA).

On the list are tricycles, famously known as Bajaj, and motorbikes—both used to ferry passengers in Dar es Salaam and other parts the country.

With Dar’s economy valued at Sh7.5 trillion ($4.6billion) a year, fresh data on the importation and registration of motor vehicles, tricycles and motorbikes sheds light on why the traffic jam is here to stay.

Some analysts, including our top leaders, have linked the lengthening of the traffic jam with development. The more money there is in people’s pockets, the worse the traffic jam for the simple reason that the middle-class soon gets the appetite to own their vehicles.

This theory holds beyond our borders. At the heart of Johannesburg, South Africa’s wealthiest city, stands a big billboard that reads: Traffic jam or metropolitan outburst? The advert placed by The New Age —a newspaper associated with the ruling elite—portrays a different view on the traffic jam.

No wonder President Kikwete once commented that the worsening traffic jam in Dar es Salaam was simply a demonstration of economic development.

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But whether measured by the total number of vehicles or the rapidly growing population, six years of data on the importation and registration of vehicles, tricycles and motorbikes paints a gloomy picture for the future of traffic flow in Dar es Salaam.

Between 2008 and 2013, there were a total of 226,806 light vehicles imported and registered in Tanzania—a yearly average of 37,801 vehicles bought by Tanzanians during that period. About 70 per cent of these cruise the streets of Dar es Salaam city. And this number does not include vehicles assigned to government officials, the police, the army and donor-funded projects.

Last year alone, the number of light vehicles imported and registered surged by 23.5 percent, reaching 54,452 units —a monthly average of 4,537 cars.

In 2012, the total number of light vehicles imported and registered in the country was 47,360 units, according to latest data released by Automobile Association of Tanzania (AAT).

Between 2008 and 2013, Tanzanians purchased a total of 39,078 heavy load trucks—with the majority operating between Dar es Salaam and upcountry routes. During that period, local transporters bought 15,738 trailers.

Bleak future for motorists

Consider this: There are about 9,541 mini-buses, famously known as “Daladala” cruising in Dar es Salaam’s roads. By the end of last year, there were about 30,000 Bajaj in the country—with 95 per cent operating as passenger’s vessels in Dar es Salaam.

Between January and October last year, imports of the motor tricycles surged by 2.8 per cent to 8,822 units compared to 2012, when the number was 7,810 units. Countrywide, 587,936 motorcycles were imported and registered in the country between 2008 and 2013.

There are chances half of these operate in Dar es Salaam city, adding to the huge number of users of the city’s dilapidated and overwhelmed roads.

From January to October last year, 118,047 motor cycles were on the road—with many being used as passenger vessels famously known “boda boda”.

Countrywide, there are 19,355 heavy passenger vehicles with a capacity of more than 12 passengers—mainly mini-buses and buses.

Now, we are already been told that in Dar es Salaam alone, there are a total of 9,541 registered mini-buses or Dala dala if you like—half of the total passengers vehicles imported and registered in the country during the past six years.

In terms of heavy passenger buses, Dar es Salaam is still the country’s biggest hub. Over 80 percent of the 19,355 heavy passenger’s vehicles cruise Dar’s roads. Soon, there will be another extra 3,000 mini-buses on the city’s roads if the ambitious UDA plan is fully implemented.

All of this means that there are already more vehicles, tricycles and motorbikes in the city than the existing infrastructure—and the number is set to grow even more in the next decade as the middle class feed their appetite for personal vehicles.

Just a decade ago, the importation and registration of vehicles was very low compared to the surge recorded between 2008 and 2013. Yet the city’s infrastructure remains the same, with abysmal upgrades marred by lack of finances and poor planning.

The Dar es Salaam road infrastructure is still not fully developed. The entire region has 260 kilometres of trunk roads, 542 kilometres of regional roads and another 578 kilometres of feeder roads. According to statistics obtained from the regional commissioner’s office, 112 kilometres of those regional roads and 98 kilometres of feeder roads are dilapidated.

Defining the traffic jam

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report of 2007 on managing urban traffic congestion, there is no single broadly agreed definition of traffic congestion due to the fact that it is both a physical and a relative phenomenon.

Physical phenomenon traffic congestion is a situation where demand for road space exceeds supply and is reflected by slower speed, longer trip times and increased motor vehicle queuing while a relative phenomenon is the difference between road performance and road user’s expectations. Today, it is obvious that Dar es Salaam faces physical phenomenon traffic congestion because the demand for road space exceeds the government’s capacity to construct and upgrade the existing infrastructure.

Said an investor who did not want to be named: “Our traffic lights and roads were designed to accommodate the size of the economy of the 80s and 90s…today our economy as well as population has changed drastically and results is painful traffic jam.”

According to the investor, while traffic lights were introduced worldwide to ease the movement of vehicles, they appear to have failed in Dar es Salaam—paving the way for traffic police to lead the motorists.

But taking into consideration the data on importation and registration of vehicles, the traffic jam in Dar es Salaam has already overwhelmed traffic police plus traffic lights.

“With the current pace of vehicle importation and registration, it’s obvious that drastic measures are needed to salvage the city from the already looming traffic jam crisis,” taxi driver James Mushi told The Citizen.

Mr Innocent Macha, an engineer based in Dar es Salaam few years ago, designed and presented what he termed the best plan to decongest the city’s roads, but that proposal was shelved by the ministry of infrastructure.

Mr Macha was one of the designers involved in designing the much-acclaimed Nairobi highways built by the Mwai Kibaki regime.