The Sunday Mail
Harare’s traffic jungle seems untameable.
It is worse when it rains, as it often results in traffic jams in both the Central Business District (CBD) and its feeder roads.
Motorists have to spend hours on end trying to negotiate their way out of the traffic jungle.
Many cannot explain the cause of this inconveniencing phenomenon.
However, several factors, chief among them dysfunctional traffic lights, impatient and errant drivers, are largely to blame for the chaos.
Some of the solar traffic lights have been vandalised by criminals targeting batteries and inverters.
Opportunistic private-owned kombis and pirate taxis (mushikashika) further compound the situation.
Illegal transport operators are mainly known for their reckless drivers and penchant to disregard road traffic regulations.
But there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as strategies are being considered to enforce discipline and ensure the smooth flow of traffic, even during rush hour.
Plans to install cameras at all major traffic-controlled intersections are already afoot after a recent pilot project.
“Government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, is prioritising the acquisition and instalment of technological gadgets that will help us fight crime on our roads. This requires funding and as soon as the funds are available, the gadgets will be acquired and installed,” said Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.
Modern traffic enforcement usually involves deploying red-light and speed cameras that allow law enforcement agencies to monitor traffic remotely.
A red-light camera or red-light running camera is a type of traffic enforcement camera that photographs a vehicle that has entered an intersection after the traffic signal controlling the intersection has turned red.
The photo is used as evidence that assists authorities in enforcing traffic laws after they review the photographic evidence and determine whether a violation occurred.
Government laws regarding automated enforcement generally establish guidelines for local authorities.
In the interim, traffic police and their municipal counterparts are being deployed at busy intersections, particularly during peak hours.
While this has improved traffic flow, it comes with its own challenges.
When it rains, police usually vacate their posts, hence the need for a permanent solution.
Police attribute most of the chaos on our roads to reckless driving.
“This morning (Thursday), I was caught up in a traffic jam caused by reckless drivers. The attitude of most of our drivers is pathetic. They are reckless and disrespectful, with some of them driving against oncoming traffic,” added Asst Comm Nyathi.
An operation targeting errant and reckless drivers will, however, be launched soon.
“Some of the drivers are not only disrespectful, but are driving dangerously. We want to weed out such dangerous elements,” he said.
“Reckless drivers are giving the police an unnecessary burden. We are being forced to redeploy our officers from other duties and assign them at traffic intersections. During the operation, we will impound unregistered vehicles, will arrest unlicensed drivers and we will also be dealing with the issue of change of ownership.”
He added that drivers of Government-owned vehicles will not be spared.
Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme believes human traffic control systems provide a quick-win solution.
“From time to time, police control traffic even at functional intersections and this is not peculiar to Zimbabwe. Circumstances can cause an intersection to be overwhelmed by traffic volumes due to factors such as high traffic densities, route closures, accidents or vehicle breakdowns within the vicinity of traffic signals and developments upstream or downstream of the controlled intersections,” he said.
He, however, noted the need to upgrade traffic lights at some of the intersections.
Harare currently has 198 controlled intersections, of which less than 25 percent are running on modern traffic controllers.
“When it comes to traffic lights, the council is facing multifaceted challenges, with the major challenge being obsolete equipment.”
The majority of the intersections, Mr Chideme added, are still using old incandescent traffic signal heads which are no longer visible, yet consuming 80 percent more power compared to the LEDs installed on 40 percent of the intersections.
Erratic power supplies and delays in restoring power whenever faults occur are also severely affecting traffic signal operations.
“The city’s central traffic control system was decommissioned years ago and there is a need for the system to be replaced to ensure online monitoring and control of traffic signalling infrastructure. Also, there is an urgent need to digitalise road traffic enforcement operations so that traffic violations are captured on cameras,” he said.
The electronic ticketing system is now a common feature in some Southern African countries.
“Delays in replacing vandalised lights are mainly caused by our inability to stock critical spares due to cash flow constraints. Also, most of the damages to the lights are as a result of accidents; the claim handling process takes long, resulting in delays in replacements.”
Impatient and reckless drivers are equally to blame, according to Harare Residents Trust director Mr Precious Shumba.
“The congestion that we witness is a direct result of impatient drivers who do not respect directions given by traffic lights or other volunteers controlling traffic intersections when there is no electricity,” Mr Shumba said.
“The roads in Harare are too narrow. The widening of roads should be considered another road project worthy of investment. Sometimes, the chaos is a result of poor road infrastructure linking suburbs and the CBD.”
Mr Nicholas Mabwe, the president of Drivers Association of Zimbabwe, implored motorists to exercise caution and strictly observe road rules.
“Driving must be taken as a profession, just like any other,” Mr Mabwe said.
“Players in the transport sector argue that road traffic fines are not deterrent enough.
However, the highest traffic fine, which is for running a red robot, is currently pegged at $50 000. A driver’s licence can also be endorsed after a court trial, if the driver is found guilty.
“In my view, fines are merely used for fundraising purposes. The real solution is in having a mindset change among motorists and pedestrians alike as part of enhancing Ubuntu/Hunhu among people.
“Imposing heavy fines is not a sustainable solution as it only fuels more corruption.”
Making public fines schedules, enforcement methods and publicising cases of those who have been prosecuted is also said to be a crucial step in making motorists aware of the implications of reckless driving.
On its part, the Government is implementing a number of strategies to control traffic and ensure the smooth flow of traffic in the capital.
In Harare, over 40 roads have so far been rehabilitated under the Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme Phase 2 (ERRP2).
The Government has spent over $1 billion on road rehabilitation, gravelling and drainage structuring.
Reforming the mass public transport system by including rail transport to ease pressure on roads is also underway.