DART project hangs in the balance over taxes, fares

08Mar 2016
Felister Peter
The Guardian
DART project hangs in the balance over taxes, fares

There are growing fears that the long-awaited Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit (DART) bus project may have hit an insurmountable bottleneck over what appear to be indefinite delays in completing the necessary infrastructure and reaching agreement on the proposed bus fares

Trial runs for the Dar es Salaam Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

The 400 billion/- project was scheduled to take off in January in line with a directive issued by prime minister Kassim Majaliwa during a tour of DART facilities in December last year.

But according to UDA-Rapid Transit Company (UDA-RT) board chairman Sabri Mabruki, progress has stalled over an 8bn/- import duty debt owed to the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) for the project’s initial 140 commuter buses.

UDA-RT is the company formed to oversee the DART project on behalf of the government. Mabruki told The Guardian in an interview last week that the company was hesitant on taking out a bank loan to clear the debt due to fears that the high interest rates may well cause operation costs to shoot up, resulting in further unplanned bus fare hikes that may complicate the situation even further.

“We are not seeking any favours from TRA…what we have done is to request them to allow us to put the buses on the road first so that we can start earning an income and then pay off the import duty in installments,” he said, asserting that such an arrangement would be perfectly legal.

Still, Mabruki sought to assure Dar es Salaam residents that the DART buses will eventually become operational and provide reliable public transport at affordable costs, as envisaged from the outset of the project.

Contacted for comment, TRA director of taxpayers education Richard Kayombo told The Guardian that negotiations on the matter were continuing, but declined to reveal further details on grounds that the law prohibited the revenue agency from doing so.

Meanwhile, the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) is still trying to clear up the issue of bus fares which is also believed to be contributing to the project’s continuing delay.

According to SUMATRA public relations officer David Mziray, the law requires that the fares be decided upon and announced within 60 days from the date the first public hearing on the proposals was held, which in this case was January 5 this year.

Mziray said the process might take longer while consultations continued with various institutions including banks and bus companies in order to come up with a fare structure that would benefit both commuters and service providers.

“We are progressing well. We don’t want to rush the fares announcement as services providers could open a case at the Fair Competition Tribunal if they still are not satisfied with the fares,” he noted.

At a project consultative meeting in early January, some stakeholders rejected a proposal by UDA-RT to peg fares at 1,200/- for commuters travelling from Mbezi-Kimara to Kivukoni on trunk roads, 700/- for those using feeder roads, and 1,400/- for both feeder and trunk roads.

This fare suggestion was also rejected by SUMATRA’s Consumers Consultative Council (Sumatra CCC), whose executive secretary Dr Oscar Kikoyo told the public hearing that the project could be sustainable even by charging less than 500/- per route.

Mziray meanwhile asserted that the bus fares were not the only issue stalling the DART project. “There are so many other things behind it (like) some incomplete infrastructures,” he said.

The project is being financed by the government through World Bank support and covers the construction of special rapid bus roads, terminals, depots and feeder stations.