As the notorious habit practiced by commuter bus operators in the city of Dar es Salaam of shortening their routes is growing at an alarming rate, some city commuters have called on the regional traffic police to intervene.
The call by commuters comes about despite regular crackdowns carried out by the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) plainclothes agents tasked to net the notorious operators along various designated routes, but seemingly the team has been overwhelmed due to a great number of defaulting commuter buses plying the major bus routes.
The most affected passengers and their routes are those who head to areas such as Gongo la Mboto, Mbagala, Mwenge Tegeta and Mbezi whereby they experience problems of boarding commuter buses destined to their respective areas of residence during evening and night picking hours.
A survey by this paper has discovered that in order for them to reach their destinations, they have to make a number of connections, forcing them twice or thrice for the same trip and rroute.
The Guardian has observed through its week long survey that sometimes a passenger is forced to pay more than the normal fare indicated by SUMATRA for that route, usually at night hours.
Interviewed passengers at Buguruni commuter bus stop complained recently: “We have to connect our routes by boarding three buses in order to arrive to our destinations.”
This paper has also looked into the magnitude of the matter and found out that the persisting problem is due fewer commuter buses serving the area after nightfall. To make the trips pay and buses more frequent on those routes, they are shortened instead of going the whole distance of their designated routes.
In view of this, commuters are being subjected to the harassment of scrambling to board the few available ones and sometimes forced to accept hiked fares announced randomly by operators and for lack of alternative means, have to accept to board in order to reach their destinations.
The scrambling for buses at some bus stops has paved the way for thieves who take advantage once they mingled pretend to be passengers while seeking to make other mischief.
A spot check at Buguruni commuter bus stop last week found scores of passengers stranded at around 2230 hours at night, mostly women and children arriving from other places like Mwenge, Tegeta and Ubungo waiting to connect by other buses. They had been abandoned by notorious drivers who do not reach their final destinations like Gongo la Mboto, Temeke and Mbagala.
Speaking to this paper, some passengers expressed concern over the situation, saying they spend a lot of money everyday as fare to and from work places. However, some of them blamed the traffic police for failure to curb the situation.
Those commuters unable to afford such connections for double trip journeys spend hours at the bus stop waiting for a single trip plying service and consequently find themselves arriving late at homes. Due to rising frequency of the practice, they have asked the police force to intervene so as to ensure their safety.
Drivers interviewed by this paper said that the habit enables them to make a good profit margin at the end of a day’s work. However, they have cited increased traffic slowdown and impinging on their operations and hence collect much less at the end.
“In order to supplement for any loss incurred, we have to shorten the official routes we are licensed for and return to original departure halfway, or shift to another route in the evening,” says Rashid Mwamkambo,driving a Mwenge - Gongo la Mboto bus.
According to Mwamkambo, his employer demands Sh100,000 a day but it sometimes gets him not to have obtained half of the money by 1500 hours. “This is due to traffic jams on the road,” he stated. He complained that the cost of running the business had become high due to high fuel consumption from road congestion.
Contacted for comment, Public Affairs Manager in the Surface and Marine Transport Authority (SUMATRA) David Mziray admitted being aware of such violations, saying that cutting short routes can lead to revoking the driver’s license.
According to Mziray about 257 commuter buses drivers have been apprehended in a recent crackdown, where defaulters face severe punishment including revoking of licenses.
A Tsh. 10,000 to Tsh. 25,000 fine or withdrawal of license for three weeks to six months or both is the standard penalty, but critics wonder if the punishment is sufficiently a deterrent.