23 February 2018

Zimbabwe: City Needs Holistic Approach to De-Congest CBD


For  the umpteenth time, Harare City Council (HCC), issued a directive that was initially supposed to take effect on Wednesday, and later moved to yesterday, in an attempt to bring order in the central business direct (CBD) through banning commuter omnibuses from the city centre.

Although the ban was later lifted, it is imperative that we state that we have been down this path before. It is not a secret that commuter omnibuses have become a menace in the CBD.

During the day, there is a modicum of order in the city centre, especially when police -- albeit erratically -- try to control traffic at some of the city's most notorious intersections, but at night it becomes chaotic. In most cases, it seems commuter omnibus drivers have a Highway Code and drivers' instruction manual of their own.

It is simply a mess. However, the omnibuses are unlikely to voluntarily move out of the city centre simply because demand for their services is ever-present. As science tells us, nature does not allow a vacuum.

The absence of shuttle services and a convenient, orderly public transport system has opened up the opportunity to both legal and illegal transport operators whose only motive is maximising profits.

This is precisely the reason why, for some of us, we cannot help but feel a sense of déjà vu on the City of Harare's recent pronouncement to bring sanity to the CBD.

We have been here before, not once, twice, but several times and the result has invariably been the same. This is not the first time that the city fathers have decided to deal with commuter omnibuses in this manner and have failed, dismally in some instances.

In the previous instances, the bans have been temporary and we cannot help, but feel that the same will happen this time around since the city fathers are still making the same elementary mistakes.

There appears to be no evidence suggesting that they have learnt from their previous experiences. One of the most notable mistakes the local authority has been making is introducing a shuttle service run by the same commuter omnibus operators.

From previous experiences, operators given the same privilege tended to conveniently take advantage of hapless and stranded commuters.

Again, it is also folly to assume that hard-pressed commuters will be willing to part with an extra penny to get into and out of the CBD over and above what they would have paid to get to the new ranks.

While we understand that council in its selection of the new ranks was guided by the need to find suitable places to accommodate a large number of commuter omnibuses, the new ranks are located too far from the CBD, which leaves commuters with only one option -- using the shuttle service, especially in the morning when rushing to work.

It is our humble submission that the model will only work if Government is in charge of the shuttle service. We believe that there is need for a service such as the one that used to be provided by the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company in the early 1980s.

Such services have proven not only to be reliable, but cheaper in other progressive nations such as the United Kingdom. In addition, there is also the issue of security. Harare commuters tend to travel throughout the day and night and some of the new ranks such as the Coventry Road and Rotten Row and Seke Road Rank are not in the most secure areas of the city.

There have been incidents of muggings and most pedestrians rarely use these areas after dark. It will be interesting to see what kind of measures that the city fathers have put in place to ensure the security of commuters.

As we also share City of Harare's aspirations of bringing sanity to the city, we hope that they will have a well thought-out plan that will prove us wrong for the betterment of the capital city.


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