In the past few months the country has witnessed a deteriorating public transport sector. This has been manifested through the death in Harare of a young boy knocked down by a kombi allegedly fleeing police, the Seke Road accident, several incidents involving city of Harare traffic officers and taxis and commuter omnibus drivers, national police and public service operators, and a few other incidents that have attracted widespread publicity.
A functional and efficient public transport sector is the result of a number of different aspects and sectors working well in a co-ordinated and complementary manner.
The first thing that must work well is the relevant infrastructure, that is, the roads, the termini, and the signage.
These must be properly planned, built, and maintained.
This is attended to by the different roads authorities, the relevant ministry, and the local authorities.
This is a priority area as it is not only about public safety, but is a key enabler for economic development.
Whilst the institutional framework for attending to our road infrastructure appears to be in place, it is at the operational and implementation level that we appear to be failing.
Admittedly, our resources are insufficient, but that is where astute management and priority setting comes in. Many times we have seen resources not being targeted at
life-threatening situations and being deployed in not-so-needy areas.
Potholes on a curve along a major road used by thousands of vehicles require more immediate attention than an obscure case in a low traffic volume area.
The second aspect is the policy framework.
What regulations are in place to deal with the sector?
Is it mandatory for operators to belong to a responsible association for accountability or it is a free-for-all environment?
This includes key areas such as what mode of public transport we use and what size of carriers.
In Zimbabwe today, particularly in the urban transport sector, there is an over-reliance on small carriers known as kombis.
When you use kombis, the roads are congested.
Imagine if there are 1000 people to be ferried from Harare to Chitungwiza. Using a train, all of them can be ferried at once; using conventional buses with a capacity of 100 each, the people can be transported in 10 buses; using 16-seater kombis, the people are ferried by a massive 63 kombis!
Where we should have a few vehicles on our roads, the size of our public passenger carriers has led to massive congestion on the roads by this reliance on small carriers.
The other factor is the day to day management.
Even with good infrastructure and a good regulatory framework, this must be managed by people.
This is where you have the national police, the municipal police, as well as other agencies with a mandate to manage traffic and transportation.
In this area we have terribly failed because the numbers of people involved has not translated to a safer public transport sector.
It is time we ask ourselves whether we are being effective.
Admittedly, the message from the top of some of these authorities has been positive regarding wanting to clean up the system, but we must also say this has not stopped the corruption and mismanagement. Having outlined what these issues are, the next thing becomes the way forward.
A solution lies in attending to all the issues raised above, but that is not easy.
In our individual silos or institutions, we have failed. Maybe we now need each other.
It is our view that we need a national stakeholder dialogue on the operation of the public transport sector immediately.
This will involve the national police, local authorities, relevant ministries, public transport operators, professionals in transport planning and implementation, policy makers, and the traffic safety council.
We continue to lose lives due to a variety of reasons that we must resolve and this must stop.
Zimbabweans deserve to travel in comfort and safety. Our roads cannot continue to be death traps.
Percy Toriro is the spokesperson and vice president of the Zimbabwe Institute of Regional and Urban Planners