The Sunday Mail
Lincoln Towindo and Charlotte Musarurwa
The Government has begun the process of phasing out urban commuter omnibuses in line with comprehensive plans to decongest major cities as well as create a modern and affordable transport system. Work is also underway to reduce import duty on bicycles to encourage Zimbabweans to embrace transport modes that use road space economically.
In addition, a ring road, running around central Harare, will be constructed to detour heavy vehicles and large volumes of travellers away from the Central Business District. Several companies are reported to have already submitted bids for the ring road project, which is set to begin at the end of this year.
The measures, contained in the National Transport Policy, will be implemented over the next two years.
Under the new arrangement, high-volume buses operated by a limited number of private players will replace commuter omnibuses.
The operators, who will be identified by Government, are expected to service designated routes.
One such operator, Metro Buses, has already been commissioned to participate in a pilot project of the new system.
In essence, commuter omnibuses will suffer the same fate as the once-popular Peugeot 404s and 504s that used to ply intra-city routes.
Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Dr Obert Mpofu told The Sunday Mail that traffic congestion will be among the top items on this week’s Cabinet agenda.
The new system, said the minister, will significantly reduce bus fares and largely affect commuter omnibuses with a carrying capacity of less than 26.
Over 4 550 individuals are registered as commuter omnibus owners in the capital, according to the City of Harare Department of Urban Planning report of 2012.
“As Government, we are working on a raft of measures to address the transport chaos, especially in cities such as Harare. One of the steps we will be taking will include decongesting the CBD by restricting the entrance of big vehicles,” said Dr Mpofu.
“The ring road we intend to construct will filter transport that should not enter the CBD. A number of bidders have since applied for the contract and we will let due process take its course.
“A lot of cars in the CBD are not even supposed to be there. Another method involves introducing high-volume buses which are cheaper and cost a quarter of what the kombis are charging.”
Traffic congestion in major cities, especially Harare, has caused headaches to both residents and authorities.
In the capital, the problem has been directly linked to expanding vehicle numbers, including commuter omnibuses which became the main mode of mass transport after the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company failed to cope.
It is also a result of huge traffic volumes that cut through the city centre from major trunk roads such as the Harare-Mutare-Beira; Harare-Chirundu; Harare-Nyamapanda; Harare-Masvingo-Beitbridge and Harare-Bulawayo.
According to the National Transport Policy, the design of most roads in the urban areas does not conform to the rapid increase in traffic volumes. The policy states that other road-related problems include inadequate parking spaces, lack of maintenance and room for future expansion, vandalised or lack of proper shelters and lighting at bus stops and bus termini as well as inadequate facilities for non-motorised traffic and pedestrian lanes. It also proposes that Government should develop by-passes, ring roads and truck inns in major urban areas to cater for through traffic as an alternative to radial roads that start from the CBD. The policy advocates, “Promoting the use of high capacity transport modes such as trains/articulated buses which are economic and efficiently use road space and gradually phasing out kombis and minibuses with a capacity less than 26 seats;
“Improving traffic flow and turn-around of public vehicles by preventing heavy vehicles from traversing the CBD and towing away improperly parked vehicles; promoting car sharing and segregating and conforming bus transport to selected routes/lanes to speed up traffic flow and vehicle turn around.