Dar es Salaam — Last Monday Bus Rapid Transit commuters' patience was tested to the limit.
After failing to board the buses at the Kimara Terminal in the city because of the shortage they decided to vent their frustration by demonstrating.
The passengers held their demonstration on the rapid bus lanes that enter the terminal, something which caused a long traffic jam.
Witnesses said commuters made the decision after spending many hours waiting for buses.
Commuters' expression of anger took place exactly two years since the rapid buses project took off.
When the BRT project started on May 10, 2016, a lot of people thought that it would bring a taste of modernity in the chaotic Dar es Salaam's public transport system.
The new shiny and spacious, buses passing through pristine asphalt lanes were the envy of every African city, but problems started right from the start.
The buses deployed were visibly overwhelmed as thousands of commuters preferred them. At first it was thought that the large number of passengers was caused by brouhaha because a lot them wanted to enjoy the ride of the new buses. However, as months passed by congestion has now become a big problem.
Shortage of buses
It is now crystal clear that the interim operator, Udart, deployed fewer buses, which could not meet the demand of the biggest city in the country.
Dar Rapid Transit (Dart) officials said in 2016 that Udart was contracted to import and operate 305 buses. However, Udart only deployed 140 buses on the BRT routes that could not meet the real demands of the five million plus city.
In due course, dozens of buses were removed from operations as they developed mechanical problems caused, mainly by flooding of Udart workshop, which is located at the flood-prone area of Jangwani.
The floods have caused about 30 buses to be out of service, something which leaves the BRT system with 110 buses only.
As part of efforts to address the situation, Udart imported 70 new busses, but unfortunately the new buses, imported in February, are yet to start operation.
In an effort to solve the shortage of buses, Dart public relations manager William Gatambi said last week that the orgnanisation is in the final process to bring in a new operator before the end of the year.
The new operator, who has not yet been unveiled, would bring in 165 buses. Dart is the custodian of the BRT infrastructure.
The talks of bringing in a new operator have been on since early last year. Tenders were first opened early 2017. No bidder was qualified and the tender had to be re-advertised late last year.
"Getting another operator has taken so long because the procurement process of getting a new one must be thoroughly implemented and adhered," he said.
According to him, procurement is a long process, but he disclosed that the a new operator will be announced within this year to increase efficiency.
The report indicates, however, that the procurement process for a new operator was stalled because Udart went to court to block the process.
Nonetheless, the court allowed the procurement process to proceed.
Do commuters have to suffer till end of year?
Commuters say the lasting solution to unhealthy congestion inside BRT buses must be found immediately.
Speaking with this paper, various commuters said inconveniences they get when using the BRT services make the project meaningless.
While some commuters said the new busses imported by the operator, Udart, should be immediately deployed to ease congestion others said the traditional commuter buses (Daladala) should also be allowed to use the BRT lanes.
"About 70 new buses arrived more than three months ago, but they are yet to be deployed on the BRT lanes. We don't really know why," said Fanuel Mosha, a resident of Kimara.
Another commuter, who identified herself as Aisha, said it was high time that other commuter busses, mainly Daladala, were allowed to use the lanes.
"I think the BRT lanes should not be exclusively for these special buses. Other commuter buses should also be allowed ply the routes. I think it will easy transport headaches," she noted.
Nevertheless, other commuters did not agree with the idea of allowing the daladala to use the BRT lanes.
"In my opinion, the BRT lanes should be left for rapid buses, but I urge authorities to return all the daladala routes that they had cancelled when the BRT project started in 2016," Abdiel Mshana, a resident of Mbezi and a regular commuter using rapid buses noted.
When the BRT busses started operations the Dar es Salaam authorities cancelled all daladala routes plying between Mbezi /Kimara and Posta/Kariakoo.
"It was wrong to cancel the daladala routes, in the first place, before we were sure that the BRT system was going to work efficiently," Mr Mshana noted.
The construction of the first phase of the BRT infrastructure started in April 2012.
It was carried out by the Austrian construction company Strabag International GmbH. It was completed in December 2015, 2012.
The first phase of the project covers a total length of 21.1 kilometres from Kimara Mwisho to the city centre (Posta), to Morocco in Kinondoni and to Kariakoo. It has three trunk routes and 29 stations.
The entire system is operated by Udart under the surveillance of the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (Sumatra).
Currently, the route is serviced by 140 Chinese built Golden Dragon buses operating 18 hours daily. The project was funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB), World Bank (WB) and the government of Tanzania. The trio collectively injected a total cost of €134 million (about Sh340 billion) in the project.
The BRT project is being implemented in six phases. The intention is to cover the entire city with high quality commuter services.
The second phase of the project is expected to start soon and it will be supported by the AfDB and the planned third and fourth phases will be supported by the WB.