Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

10 March 2014

Tanzania: How 'Vifodi' Commuters Risk Their Lives in Arusha

THOSE who have read Stephen King's novel 'Christine' should be informed that the scary tale of a car which happens to have a mind of its own, is becoming a reality in Arusha.

And it is not just a single "haunted car," but thousands of them, these commercial "Christines" are currently speeding and hooting around the local streets with their unsuspecting "would-be-victims" .

That is because authorities here have just discovered that the more than 1,000 town buses operating in Arusha City and its environs are being driven around by unlicenced ruffians.

Commuting from one destination to another within Arusha City and its suburbs, as it was recently discovered, is extremely dangerous. The commuters nicknamed vifodi, or daladala as known in other parts of the country come in their various models.

We have the Dynas and Hiaces (by Toyota) Urvans and Caravans (by Nissan) Fargos and Comos (by Isuzu) among others. Now Arusha has a problem related to those vehicles; figures from the Regional Traffic Department indicate that over 90 per cent of all drivers operating the commuter vans that serve as town buses in the city, are not licensed, thus doing it both illegally and dangerously.

"From our recent inspections we have discovered that people who drive the vehicles that ferry many people around do not possess valid driving licences," stated Mr Marrison Mwakyoma, the Police Commander in-charge of Traffic Department in the Region.

According to Commander Mwakyoma, in addition to the vans that are being controlled by unruly, unlicenced and arrogant drivers, many motorcycles common as bodaboda are also being ridden by fellows who hold no licences, and to make matters worse, these do not even have the slightest knowledge of traffic regulations.

Arusha, according to recent counts, has over 1000 commuter vans that ferry passengers around the city and its outskirts. With each van carrying an average of 20 people per trip and a single bus making at least five trips per day on respective routes, the figures place over 100,000 lives of local city residents in the hands of ignorant and unlicenced drivers on a daily basis.

Hundreds of young people are also sticking out their necks along the highways while riding on the saddles of nearly 3000 Chinese-made motorcycles serving as twowheel taxis being operated by even more arrogant youth with neither driving licence nor idea about which side of the road they are supposed to use.

In a city of 500,000 residents, it means more than 20 per cent, of the Arusha Population gets face-to-face with death on daily basis while commuting between various destinations around the city, aboard the local public means of transport.

And without binding contracts with the van owners, drivers of these vehicles normally ditch the buses upon causing accidents and disappear without trace.

The traffic police officers, on the other hand, are said to be busy "minting money" from motorists through dishing out notifications to them over trivial faults. With the cops preoccupied with "safety belts" and "fire extinguishers" the army of unlicenced public transporters are therefore left to enjoy a field day or breaching all regulations, including operating without road licences without being bothered.

The traffic department in Arusha managed to collect 2.3 billion/- from such notifications served to drivers of allegedly faulty cars in the course of last year (2013) when compared to the previous year 2012, when 1.2 billion/- was raked in by the police.

Commander Mwakyoma says he is also aware that the traffic police are "currently very busy" with money as well as highway bribery exhortation and assures that there were mechanisms in place to curb the situation.

For instance, instead of motorists having to pay cash to the police, who of late have been discovered to employ fabricated receipt books, the drivers will start paying for the notifications using electronic means including the mobile money transfer services such as M-Pesa, Tigo- Pesa and Airtel-Money.

The cash-free transaction is expected to cut down if not totally remove from the highways the increasing number of white-clothed officers currently hounding motorists on practically every spot of the road and who are now becoming major nuisance.

Maybe with cash prospects taken away from them the Traffic Police manning the roads and highway will wake up from slumber and for the first time start dealing with real offences such as the coffins on wheels.

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