via CBD chaos here to stay 03 November 2013 SundayMail by Harmony Agere
The streets of Harare’s central business district (CBD) are no longer as safe as they used to be during the days of the “Sunshine City” due to its enviable hygiene and effective traffic administration. During the good old days, there were only a few vehicles in the country and the Zimbabwe
United Passenger Company (Zupco) provided the urban commuter with public transport.
But as the urban population grew, town planners failed to keep pace with the changes and services such that urban transport systems started faltering.
With an increase in population, new innovative ways were needed to keep up with the soaring number of commuters. Low-carriage commuter omnibuses (kombis) and small taxis became the public transport of choice.
But the increase in this mode of transport without an increase in supporting infrastructure in Harare has turned the capital city into a traffic nightmare.
Owing to the shortage of parking space, ranks and properly designated pick-up and drop-off zones, kombis and taxis have become a menace in the city centre.
In a bid to deal with the crisis, the police and the city council have in the past few years taken various measures to restore sanity on the city streets. The authorities have, in some cases, resorted to drastic traffic control measures such as wheel spiking and windscreen smashing. However, the strategies of council and police to tame the traffic menace have often resulted in high-speed chases that have left some pedestrians and passengers injured or dead while others have been maimed.
Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi said the police stood by an earlier statement that the use of baton sticks to smash windscreens was illegal.
Chief Supt Nyathi said police national spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba had clarified that it was against the law for police officers to smash windscreens as it exposes people to danger.
“The ZRP does not condone such behaviour and has no policy with regards to hitting windscreens and rear-view mirrors. Any officer caught smashing windscreens is subject to a police disciplinary hearing. We urge members of the public to report such behaviour to the police,” Snr Asst Comm Charamba said in a statement. Urban Commuter Operators of Zimbabwe president Mr Simba Ngarande says there should be better ways to solve the traffic problems in the CBD.
“The authorities should desist from using excessive force as they risk endangering the lives of people in the vehicles.
“We should come up with sustainable solutions to the problems facing the public transport systems,” he said.
Pedestrians, commuters and private vehicle drivers suspect the authorities are not showing commitment in arresting the chaos.
For years now, measures have been put in place to ensure kombis do not enter the CDB, but they continue resurfacing.
Have council and police completely failed? Are the authorities fighting a losing battle or they are deliberately letting chaos reign in the CBD? An assessment of the traffic situation in Harare by The Sunday Mail In-Depth showed that the cat-and-mouse game between public transporters and regulating authorities is far from over.
Despite plans by the city fathers to accommodate kombis in old bus termini and holding bays, the failure to rehabilitate supporting infrastructure has raised eyebrows with some stakeholders suspecting there is a deliberate attempt to let the status quo prevail.
The City of Harare had promised to solve the traffic problem by introducing holding bays and ranks on the peripheries of town.
They said the move would decongest the CBD as public transport will not be allowed in the city centre. Despite all those promises, the holding bays are yet to be opened, amid reports that council is reluctant on the move as kombis in the city centre are proving to be a cash cow for the city council.
University of Zimbabwe Department of Rural and Urban Planning academic Mr Nyasha Mutsindikwa alleged that the prolonged clashes were a result of corruption and not necessarily the lack of resources to address the issue.
“The council says it considers the public interest first. However, with respect to this issue, there is a misconception about what constitutes public interest,” he said. “Certain individuals’ interests are now being treated as public interest and the consequence is that we are now having more commuter omnibuses than the city can handle and we wonder where they are getting the operating licences.
“All these clashes that we witness everyday between the police, council officials and commuter operators are not meant to solve the root cause of the problem but they are now being seen as cash-generating activities,” he said.
On the aspect of impounding kombis and imposing fines, Mr Mutsindikwa said if everything was well, the funds realised from the fines should be utilised to fund the construction of more holding bays.
He alleged that because of corruption it would not be surprising to note that little or nothing goes into the city council coffers due to bribery and other forms of corruption in the streets.
Commuter omnibus operators caught picking or dropping passengers at undesignated points by council are fined $50 while buses pay $80 for the same offence.
Vehicles that are clamped in the CDB attract a $57 fine and, if towed, the owners are subject to a $120 fine, failure of which the car attracts a daily storage fee of about $10.
Taxi drivers who fail to display council licence discs are fined $30 while the police fine offending drivers a maximum of $20 for every traffic offence.
Town Clerk Mr Tendai Mahachi was evasive when asked on the allegations of corruption within the council’s traffic department.
He, however, emphasised that holding bays would “open soon” as a measure to reduce some of Harare’s traffic woes.
“I am not the person who should be commenting about this (issue of corruption), but the holding bays are nearing completion and will be opened soon,” he said.
A Harare commuter, Miss Yeukai Chiminya, said it was now risky to move in town especially in areas where kombis park or use as ranks.
“I am now afraid of walking freely in the city because of these clashes.
“Authorities should restore sanity in the city because these everyday chases are not good for passengers and pedestrians,” she said.
Town planners say the revival of mass public transport is the only solution to restore sanity in Harare’s streets and as long as illegal kombi and taxi operators prove to be a source of revenue, the chaos in the CDB is here to stay.