How soaring car imports choke Dar's road network By Bernard James The Citizen The Tanzanian road system is struggling to cope with soaring car imports, now at more than twice the level of two years ago. In the first nine months of this year, imports reached 76,946 units, equivalent to one newly imported car for every five currently on Tanzanian roads. The traffic police department recently estimated the total number of vehicles registered in the country at 380,000. Some three-quarters of these vehicles are being used in and around Dar es Salaam. Yet, even as the country's total vehicle stock rises by more than 20 per cent every 50 weeks, the commercial capital�s only significant road projects, adding fewer than 15kms of extra surface, are stalled through lack of cement. The rest of the master plan for the city, which promises fluid road use by 2030, has yet to make it off the drawing board. For companies operating in Dar es Salaam this is hitting profits hard. According to the Confederation of Tanzania Industries (CTI), companies in the city are reporting that traffic congestion is now cutting profits by as much as 20 per cent � as supplies get stalled, meetings get delayed and deliveries held up. It can sometimes take 1 to 2 hours to travel just 9 kms across Dar es Salaam, compared with some 20 minutes a few years ago. For some commuters, this is now seeing the journey to and from work consuming half as many hours as their entire working week. The fear for many planners is that the trend is showing no signs of slowing down. Car imports rose some 40 per cent last year. But that rate of growth appears to have climbed to more like 60 per cent this year. As recently as 5 years ago, the country was bringing in only around 20,000 cars a year, and in some years, imports were even falling. But since 2004, the growth has been relentless. "The trend is shocking. It is not proportional with the present road capacity," an officer at the Ministry of Infrastructure Development said. Tanzania was not prepared for such a swelling in vehicle numbers. "We do not know how many cars are going to enter and what the right volume of investment on road infrastructure should be," he said. The Government has sought, however, to slow the flow by making driving more expensive. Minister for Finance Zakia Meghji sharply raised vehicle licencing fees from Sh20,000 to between Sh80,000 and Sh150,000, depending on engine capacity. It was thought that this would discourage imports. Other experts, such as director of studies at NI Elifadhili Mgonja, hold that there is no shortage of roads in the city. "Most of the congestions are artificial," he said. �The road space factor is not the main factor contributing to congestion." But a recent Japanese study on causes and solutions to Dar es Salaam roads congestion suggests the opposite. Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) team leader Junji Shibata told The Citizen recently that Dar es Salaam roads are carrying more than their capacity. He cautions that the situation would be even worse if the level of service is not proportional to the increasing number of cars. The Jica study team, currently providing technical assistance for the transport master plan, estimates that car ownership for Dar es Salaam would reach 489,000 by 2030. �We cannot stop people from buying cars. What we need to do is control the use of cars and improve the roads,� he said. The experts have also conducted a study on four major roads in Dar es Salaam. For example, shows the study, the volume of traffic on Old Bagamoyo Road per day is 12,000 while at Ali Hassan Mwinyi the volume has reached 59,500. According to their study, the volume of traffic on Morogoro and Nyerere roads is 32,000 and 41,400 respectively. "The volume has far exceeded the capacity of these roads but you still can use them if the road space is used more efficiently," he said. With the fact that Dar es Salaam is now regarded as a gateway city for East African countries, Mr Shibata says, a sophisticated transport system for the city is inevitable. "With the current situation, foreign direct investment will not come to Tanzania. We need to develop a sophisticated transport system," he stressed. Presenting his paper at the Annual Road Convention (ARC-2007) in Dar es Salaam last week, a senior engineer in the President�s Office, Dr Masatu Chiguma, identified lack of political will as one of the main factors that account for traffic problems in Dar es Salaam. "Law makers are rather passive to address the problem and they do not compel the Government to act," he said, adding the participation and pressure of the general public was not well represented.