How cops aggravate Dar’s infuriating traffic jams

29May 2016
Emmanuel Ntabaye
Guardian On Sunday
How cops aggravate Dar’s infuriating traffic jams

HUMANS have been craving for advances in science and technology for one simple reason – to make life easier.

Traffic jam in Dar es Salaam

Hence researchers are ever coming up with innovations to make life easier, simpler and more comfortable.

That is the case everywhere in the world, except when it comes to traffic police officers in Dar es Salaam. I am not sure about other big towns in the country, but traffic policemen and women in Tanzania’s commercial capital are certainly an overworked lot. They brave the city’s scorching sun and the sweltering heat for hours on end guiding traffic at road intersections so much that by the time they knock off they must be dog tired.

So, probably with a view to easing the monotony of going through the same motions for long periods, some of them have perfected traffic guiding into an art. A fortnight ago our sister paper carried a combination photo of a police office displaying new antics in traffic control. You should have seen the man at work: Quite hilarious!

But hilarity apart, in the background of the combination photo could be seen perfectly working traffic lights which the police officer had turned into a white elephant. And that is when many Dar es Salaam residents keep asking themselves with annoyance when they are stuck in a traffic jam – what is technology for?

Well, to be fair to the traffic cops, it wasn’t always the case in the city in past years. The traffic robots would largely be left to do their work unless, of course, they developed a technical fault or Tanesco went on a ‘go-slow’ and would not provide power. Then traffic police officers would swing into action and bring sanity on the city roads.

But sometime in the early 2000s some smart aleck in government came up with the idea that congestion on Dar es Salaam roads was too serious to be left to traffic robots alone.

He or she might probably have done some research to come to that conclusion, but what is indisputable is that the government wholly bought the idea.

In President Jakaya Kikwete’s first phase administration his prime minister, Edward Lowassa, took this matter to heart and directed that a third lane be created on otherwise two-lane roads to ease traffic flow, particularly during morning and afternoon peak hours.

Meanwhile, traffic police officers would be deployed at road intersections to direct traffic even at places where there where properly working traffic lights. That is how the robots were made redundant.

However, a few months after the third-lane order was issued Lowassa suffered a serious political accident which culminated in his resignation as premier. With no one to exhort it, the third lane suffered a similar fate as its originator and was soon after dumped. But the traffic cops were retained and have been at their spots to date.

There are many reasons why the city roads are choked with traffic. To begin with, Dar es Salaam has been experiencing a very rapid increase in population in recent years. It is estimated that the metropolis currently accommodates five million people.

The second reason is that the city has inadequate and poor road infrastructure. Save for a few major roads which have been built and expanded, much of Dar’s road infrastructure is not far removed from that it had in the 1970s-1980s.

With notable economic prosperity, especially in urban areas, Dar es Salaam has been undergoing a very rapid increase in the number of vehicles.

For example, last year alone the number of light vehicles imported in the country surged by 23.5 per cent from the year before, reaching 54,452 units, a monthly average of 4,537 vehicles. It should be noted, however, that about 70 per cent of these vehicles cruise on Dar roads.

Between 2008 and 2013 there were a total of 226,800 light vehicles imported in the country, a yearly average of 37,801 vehicles, most of which run on Dar roads. In the same period, the country imported a total of 39,078 heavy load trucks, a majority of which operate between Dar es Salaam and up-country destinations.

There are about 19,355 passenger buses with a capacity of more than 12 passengers, mainly minibuses and buses. Dar es Salaam alone has over 9,571 registered daladalas. And then there are hundreds of bodaboda taxis plying city roads with abandon.

The middle class feeds its appetite for personal transport by buying vehicles. It is now for a family in this class to own at least two cars.

And to compound the situation, employees in both the public and private sectors are outdoing each other in acquiring the latest models of cars, what with commercial banks competing against each other to dish out loans for them to buy cars. Indeed, acquisition of a car these days is nothing to write home about!

So, Dar roads are really choked. But the government has been going out of its way to address congestion challenges on the city’s roads.

On Friday Works, Transport and Communication minister Prof Mbarawa announced plans to construct seven flyovers in the city by a British firm. Construction is expected to kick off in December. Meanwhile, construction of a flyover is ongoing at Tazara at a cost of Sh20 billion.

When tabling his ministry’s budget estimates for financial year 2016/17 in the National Assembly in Dodoma earlier this month, Prof Mbarawa hinted that Sh39billion had been earmarked for various projects aimed at decongesting the city’s roads.

Two months ago President John Magufuli launched Nyerere bridge, which facilitates transport between the mainland and Kigamboni peninsula, while operations to ferry commuters on the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transport (DART) infrastructure commenced mid this month. And this is only the first phase of the project

All in all, it is no idle talk to assure the city residents that better days are coming with regard to decongested roads. But I must hasten to add here that we are not there yet. Despite government’s grand plans to ease traffic flow in Dar, it will take more than ten years from now to achieve the goal.

Which brings us to the question: What should be done in the meantime? If the smart aleck who sold the idea to the authorities to ignore traffic lights did undertake any research, we, Dar’s regular road users who bear the brunt of the snarling traffic jams, have carried out our own, and its results are as startling as they are obvious.

Our research indicates that, wherever and whenever there is a long jam, there is always a police officer directing traffic at the intersection ahead. Always! And the opposite holds true, always. The reason is really quite simple – traffic lights are regular, regular to a fault; they never forget, unlike their human counterparts, and they are very fair – which cannot be said of their human brethren.

Last week I was going to Azam TV offices at Tazara. When I reached Vingunguti I came across a jam that was as long as the eye could see.

It went on moving for a few feet and then grinding to a halt. By the time I reached Tazara I had spent one hour and ten minutes to travel a distance hardly a kilometer long! And all thanks to the traffic police officer who we found very busy allowing traffic from Bandari to Ubungo.

No wonder it is estimated that traffic congestion is to cost Dar city road users Sh1.233 trillion in the next three years! According to last year’s statistics, the city incurs a Sh411 billion loss on road congestion annually.

On Friday I was going home in the evening, and when I reached Tabata there wasn’t the usual traffic snarl-up. I told a fellow passenger that most probably there was no police officer at the Buguruni intersection.

And, true to my ‘prophesy,’ there was none at all. Only the robots were doing their job.

So, when the nation is spending millions of shillings on the installation of traffic lights (and most of them now run on solar energy), why do we have to tire hapless police officers to do a job that can better and more efficiently be done by traffic robots?

I really pray for the day the traffic department will come to its senses and let the traffic robots do what they were programmed to do.

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