BRT trial in doubt tomorrow amid taxation hitches

27Mar 2016
Lydia Shekighenda
Guardian On Sunday
BRT trial in doubt tomorrow amid taxation hitches

Despite Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa’s directive to put the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) fleet on road on trial basis by tomorrow,

kassim majaliwa

the public is skeptic over whether it will be real as reports about Sh8bn tax debt clearance by the project overseer company Dart, were equally murky as of Friday.

If the Premier’s order fails this time around, it will be the second time in a row of his abortive attempts to put the Dar es Salaam’s first rapid bus fleet up and running by using decrees amid unpaid tax debts.

The buses were earlier expected to commute the routes on the new road network by January 10, but postponed at the eleventh hour as the government stuck to its guns, saying it would not allow operations unless Dart had cleared tax debts for its 140-strong bus fleet.

But when reached on Thursday, Board Chairman of the company that runs the project UDA- Rapid Transit Company (UDA-RT), Sabri Mabruk echoed his January remark, telling The Guardian on Sunday that the negotiations over tax settlements were at a mature stage due for conclusion soon.

“We are still in talks with the government and we hope we will arrive at an agreement on how to settle the unpaid government dues,” he said.

The parties involved in the negotiation include Mabruk’s UDA-RT which runs the project in the two-year interim phase, Tanzania Revenues Authorities (TRA), the Prime Minister's Office (Regional Administration and Local Government) and the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communications.

But TRA’s Director of Taxpayers’ Education Richard Kayombo said he had no information over whether UDA-RT had paid the taxes.

“What I know is that there were negotiations going on to ensure that they cleared the debt, but I’m not sure if they’ve so done,” he said.

However, he said the Premier’s directive was primarily aimed at a rehearsal for the rapid bus drivers to get acquainted with the relatively sophisticated new means of transport including mastering the state-of-the-art traffic details in an exercise that will involve both drivers and commuters.

“We are going to start with drivers and then to commuters for them to be familiar with the use of the new bus stations and tickets in the form of magnetic cards,” he said.

The Surface and Marine Regulatory Authority (Sumatra) Communications Manager David Mziray said they were currently working with Dart and other stakeholders on the settlement of the widely disputed rapid bus fares.
“We are finalising the process for the realistic and affordable rapid bus fares,” he said.

Earlier the proposed fares were set at Sh1,200 for Mbezi-Kimara to Kivukoni on trunk roads, Sh700 for feeder roads and Sh1,400 for using both feeder and trunk roads, but were rejected by stakeholders amid claims they were too high for the mainstream Dar es Salaam city commuters to afford.

On Tuesday Premier Majaliwa ordered the Dar Rapid Transit (DART) to start final trials ‘next week’ by using 30 to 50 buses to give drivers enough experience with the newly-built roads and traffic lights.

“They are going to start with between 30 and 50 buses operating on all routes as per the scheme,” he said when he made an impromptu visit on Tuesday to see the gas-powered stoves at the Ferry Fish International Market in Dar es Salaam as well as to inspect construction of a fence that separates DART and the market.

“It is important for other road users such as motorcycle riders, commuter bus drivers and pedestrians to understand how DART buses will be operating,” he said.

He said that authorities responsible for the project were up and running installation of ticket machines requiring special payment cards to access the transport services.