Revamping Dar es Salaam’s Public Transport: Learning from Past Mistakes

Share this article


Dar es Salaam residents have never experienced peace in public transportation, and now it has become a challenge with DART. Daily mishaps are common and far reaching with no signs of letup. Dishonest public servants have exploited good intents as they lined up their pockets at the collective pain of public transport clients who are powerless to push back on this sorry state of affairs. This article documents past experiences in the transport sector and, traces areas where the government acted faulty, and offers some remedial measures.

The modus operandi of public transport in the hands of the parastatal management has been disastrous from the days of Shirika la Usafiri Dar es Salaam Limited (UDA) to Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit (DART). Good intentions of ensuring urban public transport was affordable, convenient and reliable were informed on the realization that economies of scale favour a larger government owned bus operator that would slash operational costs and cash in on huge demand that requires no advertising to capture it.

In fact, the architects of this mode of transport were confident that public transport could be profitable and not a burden to the taxpayer. How wrong that prognosis has been found out to be, yet we keep repeating the same blunders, hoping for a miracle that never materialized.

UDA collapsed because of ownership conflicts between those entrusted to run it against its corporate objectives. No sooner were top executives hired than they faked all kinds of excuses to drain the company accounts dry. At the beginning the services were superb but as time went by, the loaned buses fell into disrepair and revenue generated faced a bag full of holes as a result little cash was left insufficient for maintenance and reinvestment to purchase new buses.

Over time, UDA was infamous for criminal indictments against her top officials who were charged for stealing money for personal use. Like all big utopian dreams this too ran her course, and was quietly laid to rest minus fanfare for the deceased parastatal.

The whole concept behind the reincarnation of UDA in a form of DART was shocking because nobody in the decision making took time to address a multitude of colossal failures that had downed UDA. On a critical path to the demise of UDA were complex ownership contradictions that should have informed everyone that public transport, in the unstable hand of the government, was a disaster in the making. But few paid attention because they were motivated by getting quick rich schemes.

Read related: Dar es Salaam’s Exciting Transit Leap: DART Phase Four Kicks Off in September!

If you rethink the investment incurred in the road infrastructure to improve public transport, the first thing that hits you is a whiff of official graft. The real reason billions were squandered was not to improve public transport but to offer a mouthwatering opportunity for thieving public servants to receive kickbacks from the construction contracts. One area that irks me most is that the real congestion problems in Dar es Salaam were not even considered and addressed. The real cause of Dar congestion was not that there were few roads but few tarmac roads.

Any sensible politician would have invested money in adding kilometres of tarmac roads to ease the congestion before even throwing money into the flyovers and special roads for DART that have miserably wobbled to ease the ever-growing congestion nightmares. Without additional kilometres of all season roads most motorists will restrict themselves into fewer good roads resulting into snailing jams.

The UDA failures should have taught us to evaluate whether we have the public ethics and morality to run public transport as a government concern given the decadent culture that has pervasive and permeated all public sector sectors. The truth is we are no longer faithful to managing a public transporter, so there was a need to reset the button.

With technological breakthroughs, we need to move away from parastatals to run our public transporter because knowing economies of scale never made sense then but availability of cheaper means to power our buses are in the market which should desist us from deepening our involvement with DART.

It is now high time we cut our losses and let DART die a natural death as we open new opportunities for private sector to replace DART. The first step is to facilitate importation of solar powered buses specifically for Dar transport. Tax credits and exemptions should encourage the active participation of the private sector in this lucrative business.

Also, read Tanzania Eyes $260M Green Climate Fund for BRT Boost to Enhance Green Transit.

The advantage of permitting the private sector to take over DART is ending the pilferage and leakages of revenue and expenditure base that is now unabated. The manpower cost is unsustainable as the wage bill is unreasonable and cannot be shouldered by a leaking revenue avenue. Without allowing the private sector to assume all public transport, we will end up coughing billions every year to condone the theft of public funds in the DART murkier operations.

For example a bus driver in the private sector gets a salary of around Tshs 350,000/= per month while at DART the same driver doubles in wages and pick up lunch allowances, overtime, weekends and public holidays compensation if he turns up to work. Such an elaborate compensation scheme is unthinkable in the private sector and trusting this sector to get it right will arrest the manpower costs that is weighing heavily on the Dar public transport.

The leverage of the worker unions have conspired to strengthen the hand of DART employee in collective bargain agreements that now howl out aloud for permanent truncation.

All Dar public transporters should be allowed to use the facilities of the DART, and the latter properties should be auctioned to the highest bidders. We must weed out this money-guzzling project and improve Dar public transport. Needs no reminder that the private sector has shown unrelenting resilience years after years even when the government has been hostile. It is time to reward our loyal private sector for her indefatigable perseverance. Everybody should be happy once we get it right, at least from the start.

Dar public transport clients are tired, frustrated and have lost hope, particularly when they know DART has swirled billions without solving transport headaches but has quadrupled them at their expense. We need to concede we have failed our people as a first step to confront a myriad of challenges in public transport management. Experience has taught us the government is not good at running public transport because it appoints cronies who believe they have been picked to enrich themselves.

To ensure that Dar public transport is in the hands of many private operators, we should buy electric buses and loan the buses to operators. We should abolish import and sales taxes for electric buses to lower costs of entry that we may have many players to promote competition that will usher in affordability, quality and reliability of the services the very objectives successive parastatals have failed to deliver.

Now it is time to look elsewhere to achieve these nobler aims that will shift low-income earners faster, at a reasonable fare and with the assurance of reliability. We have few options to consider, but being trapped in more of the same is unacceptable.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Leave a comment
scroll to top