The Sunday Mail
Harare’s Central Business District continues to become ever more crowded and chaotic. Despite losing its upmarket businesses and many corporate offices, it remains less attractive as indiscipline and bad planning combine to keep pushing the area down market.
There appear to be three main problems, all at least able to be reduced to tolerable levels in the short term if only sensible rules were set and enforced, and all soluble in the long term with imaginative town planning and surprisingly modest investment.
The problems are simple to list: kombi parking, cars double and triple parked, and vendors.
The kombi problem has excited the longest debate. Everyone who drives or tries to do business in the CBD, especially in the extended kopje area west of Julius Nyerere Way, complains incessantly about the kombis parked on so many roads.
A one-day attempt to ban kombis by Harare City Council caused so many worse problems that it had to be stopped, but a simpler short-term solution, although sketched out by council officials, was never implemented.
This is to adapt the system used by Harare United Omnibus Company, the private predecessor to Zupco in the capital. There were numerous bus stops, but no buses were parked in the CBD. Controllers were placed at all major embarkation points and they called in buses to supplement the scheduled off-peak services as crowds of commuters built up in peak periods. Kombi ownership is widespread and kombi drivers are all independent operators.
But officials were working towards a system whereby kombis would be parked away from the CBD in an orderly queue, and sent in as passenger loads became available so there would never be more than one or two kombis at each loading point. Three quarters of congestion would vanishe consequently.
The scheme needs a lot of co-operation, tight management by council officials and serious penalties for cheating. But, it could be introduced within a week.
In more recent months, we have suddenly seen an explosion, especially east of Julius Nyerere Way, of double and triple parking, and illegal parking in the central turn lanes of many streets.
This was something City Parking was supposed to have fixed with clamping and fining. But they seem more concerned with making money than enforcing parking rules. The result is some streets are now clogged by cars, many parked, if anecdotal evidence is believed, by very dubious people, like cash and drug dealers.
A serious effort, with a lot of extra clamps made if necessary, is required. The police need to be involved, to protect parking marshals from touts and to move along those who leave a driver in the car that is illegally parked.
There was a time, when those dropping someone off had to move on, and would drive around the block a few times while waiting. Again, all that is needed is a set of reasonable rules, enforcement and co-operation of the ordinary people and the authorities.
At night, after the parking marshals knock off, we see a similar clogging outside take-aways, bars and nightclubs. Part of this is a desire for security by patrons, but surely, it would take little effort to create a scheme of guarded parking for the required stretch of road and even make modest charges. This could be included in the licence requirements of these establishments.
Vendors are a complex issue. They clog pavements and drive customers away from businesses with shops and rent. But people buy from them and they are often from poor families that need the income. Police blitzes, like the one now in progress, provide a short-term solution, but not a social solution.
All these three problems could be greatly ameliorated by some imaginative action. Harare needs a proper central bus station, like most cities have. Land shortages are cited, but there is more than adequate land right in the CBD, on the railway reserve. Harare Railways Station needs to be kept, ready for the day when the National Railways of Zimbabwe gets its act together. But engine sheds, shunting sidings and all that sort of thing could easily be moved out of the CBD.
A suitable land swop between the railways and the council could almost certainly release several dozen hectares between the station and Seke Road, and that area would be adequate for a secure, guarded, well-organised central bus terminus with a proper market area for a couple of hundred vendor tables.
Small entry charges for buses and daily rents for vendors would finance operational costs, while the profits from City Parking, who with buses and kombis off the streets, would have hundreds of more bays to rent.
Such a huge terminus, well patrolled by municipal police and close to the central police station, could operate 24 hours a day and provide a very safe environment for commuters and vendors and still be right in the middle of the CBD, where both need to be. Eventually, a multi-story bus station and market would make investment sense, but we can start with less.
Neither the short-term ameliorations we suggest, nor the longer-term solutions, are impossible or even difficult. They all just require imagination coupled with proper planning and enforcement.