Traffic congestion in harare

 By Nigel Kwenda, HRT Research Coordinator

1. Introduction and Background: Traffic congestion in Harare’s Central Business District and feeder roads has reached an extent which demands action by the city council and all stakeholders. Driving in Harare’s Central Business District and feeder roads has become a real nightmare for motorists, and it is demanding a quick resolution. The situation is quite costly to the development of the country, yet it seems to be getting worse by the day. Many African cities face this challenge. Reports indicate that South Africa loses more than R1, 5 billion annually as a result of traffic congestion. The World Bank also revealed in a study, that Cairo loses $8 billion annually, which accounts for four percent of Egypt’s Gross Domestic Product. Therefore, if thriving economies like South Africa and Egypt are impacted to such extents by congestion, the problem might have worse repercussions for the Zimbabwean economy.

1.1. There has been an exponential rise in traffic, which has resulted in poor traffic movement in Harare. Traffic flow in and out of the CBD and other busy nearby suburban areas is particularly suffocating around peak hours during week days. Traffic lights in Harare are frequently down, and can stay frozen for days. At times they can even dangerously signal right of way to conflicting traffic. Except for a few heads that were installed a few years ago, most of the robots in the Harare CBD have more than doubled their lifespan. As with old machinery in constant use, breakdowns have become constant, initiating frustrations and posing danger to the public. Many of the traffic light heads, even when fully functional, have been overtaken by time. They probably do not even have the capacity for adding basic things like a filter light. It means such old robots unnecessarily hold up traffic, compounding the problem of traffic congestion. This has given frustrations to motorists and consequently resulting in bad behaviour on the roads.

1.2. Traffic problems in Harare have also resulted in an increase in the number of accidents in the CBD. According to the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ, 2012), total vehicle accidents in Harare

increased from 20 676 and in 2007 to 25 404 in 2010. Although the author of this paper could not access current accident fatality statistics, they are probably higher because traffic infrastructure keeps on deteriorating while the number of vehicles is increasing. Most of the accidents in the CBD have been ascribed to the malfunctioning traffic signals and reckless driving from kombi drivers. Therefore this analysis of the traffic congestion in Harare’s central business district highlights the existing situation, provides some case studies and makes some recommendations on ways of taming the traffic jungle in Zimbabwe’s capital city.

2. Contextual Analysis- Across the world, countries that face the worst traffic congestions are coming up with solutions to reduce congestion. In Vietnam, the government in 2008 passed a resolution mapping out comprehensive measures for the two major cities to address the mounting problem of traffic congestion, which was fast becoming an urgent social issue causing economic loss and disrupting people’s lives. Spaghetti roads and more flyovers were opened. In Japan, Intelligent Transport Systems were adopted and they have resulted in a drastic improvement in traffic flow. However, in Zimbabwe there is a feeling that the responsible authorities are not doing much in addressing the situation. There have been attempts to introduce solar-powered traffic lights, and there was enthusiasm from the local authority when they made pronouncements about implementation of the solar project. According to Michael Chideme, the City of Harare Corporate Communications Manager, cited in the Herald of 23 August 2019, the City of Harare has installed 897 solar street lights. Solar powered traffic lights have not made much difference, due to vandalism of solar infrastructure and theft of solar batteries, thus traffic congestion remains a menace to motorists and pedestrians. Earlier on 24 May 2019, the Herald newspaper had quoted suspended Director of Works Engineer Isaiah Chawatama reporting that of the 35 traffic intersections where the City of Harare had installed solar panels to power the traffic lights, 15 of them had been vandalised, leaving them with only 20 traffic lights, and replacing them became a mammoth task given the foreign currency requirements to purchase repair components.

2.1. Blame games between Central and Local government- Blame games between local government and central government are hindering progress in addressing the situation. Dibaba (2016) opines that there is too much interference from central government in local affairs through the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works. This interference has caused disputes and conflicts between the center and local institutions. The conflicts have resulted in poor performance of urban councils.

Conflict arises mainly from the set-up that the ruling party, Zanu PF constitutes the central government, while the Harare City Council is MDC Alliance dominated. The two political institutions are at loggerheads over legitimacy and patriotism, with the MDC Alliance rejecting to recognise the Zanu PF Government, while Zanu PF regards the opposition as unpatriotic and puppets of the west pursuing a regime change agenda. In view of these contradictions and conflicted relationship, the local authority and the central government are always at loggerheads over policy and programme interventions. The city council therefore blames the ruling party of sabotaging council projects through central government policy intervention, while central government lays the blame on the opposition for their incapability to run public affairs. Thus, at the end of the day, no one is willing to take responsibility for traffic problems in Harare City.

2.2. Zimbabwean economic crisis- The socio-economic situation in the country is also impacting progress on the fight against the problem of congestion in the Harare Central Business District. In August 2019, the International Monetary Fund released data which showed that Zimbabwe had the highest inflation in the world. Foreign currency has also become scarce resulting in runaway inflation. Repairing non-functional traffic lights is now a huge task considering the current economic situation, especially the shortage of foreign currency which is needed for the importation of repair components.

2.3. Poor institutional capacity within the Harare City Council- To attain a sustainable urban transport system in the City of Harare, institutional capacity should be at its peak. Currently, the City of Harare is facing a serious shortage of the required technical skills, to address the problem of congestion in the Central Business District. In his paper on public transport systems during a workshop in Istanbul, Turkey, Mbara (2015) observes that there are no employees with relevant qualifications and experience in transport, in the Traffic and Transport Department of the City of Harare. The acquisition of skills capacity by the City council is of paramount importance as it paves way for the appropriate planning and implementation of transport projects. The aforementioned state of the Zimbabwean economy, is also not conducive for the attraction of these skills. The skills gap in the City of Harare traffic enforcement systems is evident in how the local authority handles congestion during peak hours. As a consequence of these inconsistent responses, one would find street inhabitants controlling traffic at several intersections while the City traffic enforcement and State police officers would be nowhere to be seen.

2.4. The informalisation of the public transport system- Small vehicles in use as public modes of transport in Harare have compounded the problem of congestion. Until the year 1993, public transport in the city was provided by conventional buses. The growth of the informal sector in Zimbabwe, which came as a result of the introduction of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), led to the emergence of pirate taxis in the country’s cities and towns. The liberalisation of the economy led to the deregulation of urban passenger transport, in 1993. Permission was given to privately operate public transport to operate in the urban areas. This has resulted in the mushrooming of commuter omnibuses, which now dominate the public transport market in Harare. Although the reintroduction of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) buses, through a Public-Private Partnership between the government and private buses owners has reduced the domination of commuter omnibuses, the small vehicles still have an upper hand because the number of ZUPCO buses is still limited. Kombis and small pirate taxis are often accused of not observing traffic rules. Their reckless driving often blocks other vehicles, causing congestion.

3. Situational Analysis

3.1. Undesignated (Mushika-shika) pick up points in Harare- Mushika-shika is a slang name given to unofficial pick up points and illegal transport operators that have proliferated in cities and towns across the country. The following are the established mushika-shika points in the Harare CBD.

3.1.1. Chitungwiza unofficial pick up point, along Julius Nyerere Street Robson Manyika and Robert Mugabe Avenues.

3.1.2. Braeside, Cranborne, Epworth, and Queensdale unofficial pick up point at Corner Rezende Street and Robert Mugabe Avenue.

3.1.3. Kuwadzana unofficial pick up point at corner Jason Moyo Avenue and Chinhoyi Street.

3.1.4. Westgate, Ashdown, Mabelreign and Marlborough unofficial pick up point at corner Jason Moyo Avenue and Mbuya Nehanda Street.

3.1.5. Mabvuku, Tafara and Chizhanje unofficial pick up point at corner Robert Mugabe Way and Angwa Street.

3.1.6. At corner Robert Mugabe Way and Cameron Street there is an unofficial pick up point for pirate taxis which transport passengers within the CBD.

The shrinkage of the formal transport system in Zimbabwe due to the introduction of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme has resulted in a culture of hitch hiking of any mode of transport at undesignated pick-up points. Travellers even hike lorries. Passengers are seen boarding private vehicles and pirate taxis at undesignated areas in the CBD. The kind of parking exhibited by these motorists when they pick up passengers, blocks traffic movement and compounds traffic congestion. This has resulted in battles and high speed chases between traffic police and kombi, private motorists and pirate taxi operators. These battles are only compounding the confusion in the roads and increasing the number of accidents in the CBD.

On Saturday, 11 January 2020, traffic police embarked on an exercise of arresting illegal transport operators and those using the unofficial pick up points. The exercise resulted in loads of confusion in the roads as police blocked roads, trying to catch motorists breaking traffic laws. Consequently, traffic movement was very slow. This could be seen along Julius Nyerere as police would block the part of the street, between Robert Mugabe Ave and Robson Manyika Avenue. Some kombis and private cars would try to evade the police at high speed, putting pedestrians and passengers’ lives at risk. The situation was the same in other streets across the CBD. This is a typical day in the battles between the police and taxis.

Along Jason Moyo Avenue, abnormally packed small vehicles are usually seen sending pedestrians scurrying in all directions, as they meander through traffic. Vehicles which are meant to carry four passengers, plus a driver are seen carrying up to eight passengers, with a tout riding on the boot of the car. Interactions with some of the drivers revealed that their profits are calculated according to number of trips. Therefore, they end up crossing red traffic lights, cutting oncoming traffic because the more the trips they make, the more the money. This type of driving has contributed heavily to traffic congestion during peak hours.

3.2. Defective robots- Defective traffic lights in the CBD are not helping the situation. Quite a number of them are broken down and are faulty. Load shedding has also been blamed for the poor functioning of traffic lights in the CBD, resulting in the installation of solar powered traffic lights. However, Harare City Council stopped the installation of solar traffic lights in 2019, citing vandalism and theft of solar panels and batteries. This has meant that the dysfunctional traffic lights situation remains unresolved.

3.2.1. Case of malfunctioning traffic lights Simon Muzenda Street and Robert Mugabe Avenue intersection traffic lights- The traffic lights at the Simon Muzenda and Robert Mugabe intersection have been dysfunctional for quite some time now. Problems normally occur during peak hours, especially in the evenings when most vehicles are heading out of the CBD. During the evening peak hours, the vehicles travelling along Robert Mugabe towards fourth bus terminus converge with those travelling along Muzenda Street. Due to defective traffic lights, there is lack of control at the intersection and motorists end up blocking each other’s ways. Street and Josiah Tongogara Avenue’s intersection- The same happens almost on a daily basis at the Second Street and Tongogara Ave intersection. In Second Street, there are usually large volumes of traffic, both to and from the CBD during peak hours. Malfunctioning robots make it impossible for impatient motorists to give each other way on the intersection. They end up blocking and obstructing each other, resulting in gridlock. This situation can be generalised to various other intersections in the CBD, where traffic grinds to a halt during peak hours, with no municipal traffic police or the state police in sight to help the situation.

4. Possible Solutions

4.1. The introduction of mass transit- The government must continue introducing bigger and cheaper buses, which would ensure that more passengers are accommodated at any given time, thus minimising the reliance on the more expensive and chaotic commuter omnibuses. The present public transport system is characterised by small vehicles and the operations are fragmented and inefficient as they are run by individuals. The drivers of these small vehicles are well known for their bad and dangerous driving. Mass transit vehicles carry a far higher number of passengers, making them an efficient user of road space, ultimately decongesting the city. Banning the importation and licensing of small capacity public vehicles can also solve the issue of the problematic commuter omnibuses and pirate taxis.

4.2. Improving transport infrastructure- Malfunctioning traffic signals are one of the major contributors of traffic congestion in the Harare CBD. Roads are also characterised by heavy potholes as a result of very poor drainage system. These factors do not allow traffic to flow smoothly and such delays affect the economy through loss of production hours. Therefore, there is need for the allocation of funds enough to repair and maintain traffic infrastructure so as to reduce congestion in the city.

4.3. Suspending corrupt police officers- One of the major problems in trying to solve traffic problems in Harare is that of corrupt traffic police officers. Instead of arresting the rogue omnibus and pirate taxi drivers, police officers are receiving bribes. Such cases need to be investigated, and those found wanting should be suspended, dismissed or even arrested. Where they are prosecuted and convicted, deterrent sentences should be imposed to send a clearer message that corruption will never be tolerated at Town House and within the police services. Ineffective traffic policing is also compounding the problem of traffic congestion in the Harare CBD.

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