Victoria Ruzvidzo In Focus
Traffic congestion in Harare’s central business district and feeder roads has reached proportions that demand visible action by the city council and all stakeholders. Driving in Harare’s Central Business District and feeder roads has become a real nightmare that demands expeditious resolution. It has, literally, become a jungle.
The problem is quite endemic, having started a few years ago but it has now worsened. People are now spending too much productive time trying to weave their way through between their work stations and their homes.
While it is common cause that many African cities face this challenge, it cannot be justification of what is happening in Harare, and the situation seems to be getting worse by the day and yet it is quite costly to the development of this country.
For instance, reports are that South Africa loses more than R1,5 billion annually as a result of traffic congestion. A World Bank study also reveals that Egypt’s capital city, Cairo, loses $8 billion annually, which is about 4 percent of that country’s Gross Domestic Product.
We can all imagine the costs of traffic congestion for Zimbabwe. If thriving economies such as South Africa and Egypt can feel the impact of traffic congestion what of this economy that is striving to wiggle out of decades of challenges? The impact is obviously colossal and one we cannot afford.
President Mnangagwa’s mantra that Zimbabwe is open for business is quite progressive and impactful on our economy but traffic congestion in the capital threatens to close the routes to economic prosperity.
Solutions to this menace need to be sought as we apply a more holistic approach to redressing the economic challenges.
We cannot just continue to murmur and complain but all stakeholders must put their heads together to bring a permanent solution to this crisis.
Employees and their managers are getting to work late and usually tired thus affecting production and productivity levels. Already there have been issues such as obsolete machinery and inadequate capital compromising output but a tired workforce that has to endure hours in a traffic jam compounds the situation.
This affects Zimbabwe’s GDP growth. Congestion results in higher fuel consumption yet such funds could be directed towards productive channels. Smoke emitted in traffic congestion also affects the environment.
We are all aware of the reasons for the traffic congestion which include rapid urbanisation, although the bulk of our population continues to reside in rural areas, the demise of a viable public transport system, increased number of vehicles as more people can now afford to import ex-Japanese cars, poor roads and road networks, road infrastructure such as traffic lights and a high rate of accidents among other causes.
To make matters worse, commuter omnibuses have designated certain lanes and roads as ranks, creating gridlocks and heavy congestion in the process.
Of course, the colonial rulers had not anticipated that more people would move into town hence they had provided for a limited number of vehicles. But we have been independent for 38 years, certainly some of the causes of congestion would have been anticipated and plans put in place to minimise their effect.
Indeed, there is serious need to establish ways to rid Harare of this challenge.
Only yesterday we reported that the World Bank has revised its January projection of a 1,8 percent economic growth figure to 2,7 percent, reflecting increased confidence in the economy although the figure is lower than the 3,4 percent it projected last year.
This means that it’s all systems go for Zimbabwe. Every facet of the economy needs to reflect this optimism and ensure the growth figure is achieved or surpassed.
The traffic congestion is a serious hold-up in this instance.
“As the informal sector and private motorisation expands, the city’s main urban public space is increasingly more congested, impeding rather than facilitating the urban population’s ability to access the required social and economic services. A clear mismatch between the demand for traffic space and its availability is evident. Demand for traffic space exceeds its supply, inevitably resulting in congestion which can be protracted.
“Urban productivity is key to the growth of our urban economies and this requires the provision of a reliable, efficient transport system to move goods and labour,” posits Tatenda Chenjerai Mbara in his paper on Achieving Sustainable Urban Transport in Harare.
It does require much to come up with sustainable solutions but it is critical those challenges that can be resolved more easily be dealt with first as resources for more complicated solutions are sought.
For instance, the city’s municipal police should come out in full force to ensure that commuter omnibuses do not rank in the middle of the road as is the case presently. The corner of Julius Nyerere Way and Robert Mugabe Road, Albion Road and many roads in Harare have become impassable.
Recent efforts to de-congest the city centre by removing commuter omnibus ranks in the CBD were poorly implemented although the idea is noble. It just needs careful planning and we know Zimbabwe is not short of the brains required to bring a sustainable solution in this regard.
Furthermore, the Vehicle Inspection Department needs to become more vigilant and ensure that unroadworthy vehicles do not ply our roads. Sometimes we see vehicles struggling to move 10 metres at a time but you still find them in the heart of the city. Such vehicles are prone to breakdowns and cause accidents in many instances.
Heavy penalties should be charged in such cases.
On their part, the Zimbabwe Republic Police needs to become more aggressive in flushing out unlicensed drivers causing accidents on the roads. Lives have been lost and resources wasted due to an increasing number of unlicensed drivers who cannot observe traffic rules and regulations.
Also, Government and its private sector partners need to introduce a sound public transport system such as the previous Zupco bus system that provided efficient services in the 1980s and 90s. A sound rail transport system can also ameliorate the situation.
In South Africa, for instance, the introduction of the high-speed Gautrain a few years ago has de-congested roads in Johannesburg, Pretoria and other areas. Of course, these are not overnight solutions but investment in these areas can be sought. Already there are efforts to resuscitate the National Railways of Zimbabwe but more efforts are needed not just for inter-city transport but intra-city too.
For decades there has been talk of a rail link between Harare and Chitungwiza. It has remained a pipe dream but we hope the new dispensation and the renewed energy being displayed by the Government will lead to the realisation of this dream.
A number of Chinese firms have expressed interest in investing in our road and rail system. These are projects that should be implemented expeditiously as part of a grand plan to rescue the economy.
The issue of second-hand imports is a sensitive one that needs careful handling. At least $4 billion has been spent on imported second-hand vehicles to date. While it is a welcome development that an increasing number of Zimbabweans now own cars due to the affordability of the imported vehicles, particularly from Japan, this has contributed to high traffic jams. What solutions can be proffered in such instances?
Such countries as China encourage the use of bicycles. Not a bad idea if proper cycling tracks are built. Many people criss-cross Harare on bicycles although it is currently at the risk of life and limb. Bicycles are a cheaper mode of transport which could provide solutions not just to the poor communities but across the entire divide.
Another solution would be the widening of roads so that more vehicles can move at the same time thus decongesting the city.
Zimbabwe has embarked on an aggressive drive to woo investors and improve the standards of living for its populace. But this needs to be more holistic to ensure that no areas will pull down where others are seeking to build.
The City of Harare spends too much time squabbling but it should lead the process of decongesting the city. More effort needs to be directed towards finding lasting solutions to challenges afflicting the economy. For instance, why do they allow commuter omnibuses to rank in the middle of the roads?
Why can’t they patrol such roads and ensure those caught on the wrong side will not commit the offence again. If their powers are limited they must seek to expand them or call on the ZRP for reinforcement.
It is not business as usual and passive city authorities will not help us much.
There is need for innovation and thinking outside the box.
In God I Trust!