Congestion: Time to bell the cat

Traffic congestion is a growing problem in many parts of the world, and Harare has not been spared.

A visit to Harare requires patience. Lot’s of patience. Patience that will surpass even that of the Biblical Job.

In addition to the haphazard transport system, a number of issues contribute to the crazy traffic jams in Harare.

Illegal pick-up points have become a common sight in the city, a new crop of pirate taxis popularly known as “mushika-shika” have taken over the roads from the rowdy commuter omnibus crews and the city council of Harare has not been repairing faulty traffic lights on most roads timeously causing a nightmare for motorists at intersections.

Tied to that, illegal vendors selling their various wares (from fruits to mini-groceries) seem to have besieged the little space in which vehicles can navigate through the city.

Despite efforts by the Harare City Council to address the aforementioned “anomalies”, they seem to have failed dismally with motorists bearing the brunt.

A transport and logistics professional, Mr Ashbold Mari, said a vivid mismatch of the demand for traffic space and its availability is evident.

“The demand for transport has increased faster than the City of Harare can provide and is creating health and safety risks, impeding economic development,” said Mr Mari.

“Demand for traffic space exceeds that of its supply, inevitably resulting in congestion which can be protracted.

‘‘There are absolutely no mechanisms within the Harare City Council to reduce congestion in the central business district (CBD) because council itself doesn’t have its own public transport service.”

Whilst Harare City Council is muddled by grave challenges ranging from an increase in population, both vehicular and human to nightmarish congestion, brought about by an inefficient public transport, it still maintains its ambitions of wanting to be a world class city by 2025.

Because the city is ambitious, it has tabled plans to tackle the problems before them without any success.

After failing to maintain the termini in recent years and having done little to stop the vandalism of existing facilities by vendors and touts, Harare City Council forged partnerships with local companies to upgrade the city’s bus termini at Copacabana and Market Square.

Besides the transport system being haphazard, illegal vendors have invaded the capital’s CBD.

The local authorities have descended on the vendors on numerous occasions with an iron fist confiscating their wares and forcing them to desert undesignated trading points but with no joy.

The confiscation of vendors’ wares has not deterred them from swamping almost every open space, pavement, island and now outer road lanes in the CBD.

These haphazardly framed projects have left the city in a “sea of confusion.”

But something is missing!

Harare City Council seems not to have the will power to pursue its projects to their conclusion.

Residents are now tired of piecemeal plans that are set in motion and abandoned in initial stages.

Harare City Council public relations manager, Mr Michael Chideme, reiterated that they have a number of plans in the pipeline to ease traffic congestion in the city.

“Harare City doesn’t have a transport policy in place but we are guided by the existing by-laws and Acts,” said Mr Chideme.

“We have tabled a number of possible measures to solve traffic problems in Harare. These include introducing a bus mass transit system, creation of dedicated lanes for buses, introducing traffic management system and craft a public transport policy for Harare.

“We are also looking into the expansion and upgrading of the road system.

‘‘For instance, we already have plans and designs for freeways and the missing link on Harare Drive and we are proposing to have another outer ring road after Harare Drive, among other plans.”

However, timelines for the “brilliant plans” by the local authority seem to be non-existent.

In a bid to ease congestion along Chinhoyi Street, City of Harare finally set up a holding bay along Coventry Road for commuter omnibuses plying the south-western suburb city routes in August 2014 after a series of false starts.

The holding bay has a capacity of 650 omnibuses at any given time.

Despite establishing a parking bay for commuter omnibuses, the public transport vehicles continue to cause a nightmare in the city centre.

Back in 2015, Harare City Council signed loose agreements with two local public transport companies to offer scheduled urban passenger transport services in the capital and the ambitious deal suffered a stillbirth.

Traffic jams are now the order of the day at intersections due to non-functional traffic lights especially during peak hours.

However, Zimbabwe Republic Police and at times the Zimbabwe National Army personnel are engaged to control traffic.

Council officials quickly came to their own defence and heaped the blame on foreign currency shortages for the acquisition of a new controller.

Mr Mari maintains that there is need to decongest the city.

“Driving kombis outside the CBD wont address the problem because congestion is also compounded by small vehicles which are used as modes of public transport,” he added.

“The mass transport system is a reasonable suggestion. Mass transit vehicles carry a far higher number of passengers making them an efficient user of road space, ultimately decongesting the city.”

Fortunately, the legislative framework for mass transport system is already in place, what is left is the will power by stakeholders to implement the policy.

“All the efforts that the city fathers or the Government may try to implement in trying to ease congestion shouldn’t be instant and abrupt but rather must be a process,” said Mr Mari.