Unpacking ‘new normal’ during peak hours

Harmony Agere and Emmanuel Kafe
At 0745 Washington, Boss Washy as he is called at Market Square Bus Terminus, poked his head out through the open window and shouted hysterically.

He’d been stuck at the Intersection of Simon Mazorodze Road and Remembrance Drive for nearly 15 minutes and he was beginning to lose patience.

Washington had already spent another 15 minutes stuck in the traffic jam at Mbudzi round-about and even his passengers, mostly Glenview 7 residents, now frowned at the prospect of getting late for work “again”.

But with vehicles in both roads cramming into the junction with brazen disregard of traffic lights there was barely any space to move even an inch.

Suddenly a gap opened to Washington’s right side, in the middle of the intersection, and characteristically he manoeuvred quickly to occupy the space.

Unfortunately the driver in an adjacent blue sedan jostling for the same spot had badly timed his momentum.

A loud bang.

Smashed head lights scattered on the tarmac glittering in the morning sunshine. Washington had crashed his 15 seat commuter omnibus into another car, plunging the junction into deeper chaos.

There were no fatalities but what followed next were spits and counter-spits of vitriol as both drivers cursed, each trying to prove the other wrong.

Such occurrences are on the increase on Harare’s roads especially during peak periods.

While the capital has never been short of traffic congestion, Harare motorists appear to be in agreement that traffic volumes have increased drastically in recent months.

“Harare has always been an agonising traffic jungle but you can say we were somewhat getting used to it,” says a Harare motorist.

“But of late the situation has certainly worsened to a point which is almost unbearable.”

Private motorists, kombi drivers, delivery truck drivers, other commercial vehicle operators and commuters all feel the pains of the obtaining traffic situation.

Most entry points into the CBD have become a nightmare between 7am and 8.30am while traffic congestion can start as early as 3pm lasting up to 8pm.

As such motorists have resorted to driving in on-coming lanes, pavements and islands.

The situation gets worse on Fridays.

But what are the reasons for this latest spike in traffic volumes.

“It’s a combination of both new and old factors,” says transport consultant, Langton Kabinara.

“They range from old infrastructure, absence of a functioning public transport system to lack of parking bays in the CBD.

“But increased vehicle imports, absence of traffic police in our roads, rowdy drivers and heavy concentration of vendors in the CBD are some of the new factors dominating public rhetoric at the moment.”

While increased vehicle imports is not exactly a new factor there is consensus that there is increased traffic volume in Harare and a marked increase in imports in the first quarter of the year might be the reason.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority was still compiling latest figures at the time of going to print but official statistics show that imports have been on a constant increase in the last decade.

A report released by the Zimbabwe Motor Industry Development Policy (ZMIDP) this year shows that the Central Vehicles Registry (CVR) processed 14 470 second-hand vehicles imported into the country.

“In total, statistics from CRV found that since 2007 to the end of the first quarter of 2017 at least 510 275 second-hand vehicles have been imported into the country” reads the report.

Zinara estimates that there are over 1,2 million vehicles in the country.

While the statistics cover the whole country, the capital often accounts for the lion’s share.

As such experts agree that the vehicle population might have gotten to a point which is untenable for Harare’s infrastructure.

University of Zimbabwe lecturer and urban planning expert, Professor Innocent Chirisa, said while there are no latest figures to back it up, there was no denying that vehicle imports play a major role in the increase in congestion.

“Most Zimbabweans can now afford to buy a vehicle and this has triggered more congestion,” he says.

Others, however, do not believe that there has been a significant change in import figures.

They believe that the absence of police units on the roads has stimulated congestion. Those who subscribe to this idea believe that as a result of the absence of traffic police, unlicensed, defective and unregistered vehicles which could not use the roads before have also added to the population.

To add to this, is a population of impatient, incompetent and enraged drivers who do not follow road regulations.

“If the truth should be told much of these problems are of our own making,” said Harare motorist, Garikai Muvhawa.

“There are a lot of unlicensed and impatient drivers on the roads, others have licences but simply do not know how to drive.

‘‘So if you have many of those drivers during peak periods you are going to have drivers who get in the spaces they are not supposed to be.

“This results in accidents and accidents make the situation even worse given the infrastructure that we have is no longer responsive.”

Harare City Council spokesperson, Mr Michael Chideme, is of the view that the existing infrastructure can no longer hold.

“There is need for new infrastructure in the central business district, people complain of traffic lights but a bulk of traffic lights are working in town.”

The lack of flyovers, new roads, vending stalls and parking bays has made the situation worse with kombi drivers and vendors now operating in most motorways.

In an effort to side-step the problem of congestion, the council once introduced one-ways in town, but observers contend that it is only a stop-gap measure and there is need for a long-term solution.

Council also once banned kombis from entering the CBD but reversed the decision after an outcry from the public.

Traffic congestion has had many negative effects such as accidents, hiking of fares, increased in mushika-shika and further damages to the infrastructure.

As such removal of vendors and kombis from the CBD, adoption of sound public transport system have been put forward as some of the solutions.

“Measures to reduce congestion in every way must be put across, for example investing in railway systems and increase in parking,” said Professor Chirisa.

“There is need for regulation like what is done in Nigeria where a certain number of vehicles are allowed into the CBD according to their number plates.”

Zupco, which used to provide a solid public transport and is now earmarked for privatisation, last week invited expression of interests from private players to provide urban transport among other services. The parastatal seeks to do joint ventures with private companies in order to revive its former glory.

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