Tanzanians being taken for a ride in new Dart plan

August

JF-Expert Member
Jun 18, 2007
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One of the biggest things to happen to Dar es Salaam is the Dar Rapid Transit (Dart) project. The avant-garde infrastructure is a much welcome addition to the city landscape given its higgledy-piggledy expansion. Even people who do not utilise Dart appreciate its existence.

But since its inception, Dart has been surrounded by many question marks. Does the government support it? What will be the fate of daladala owners and crews? Is Dart financially viable even without government support? Can it deliver quality services? In attempting to address those issues, Dart turned into a massive comedy of errors as it lurched from one problem to another.

Unfortunately, the recently unveiled selection of a UAE firm to compete with Uda Rapid Transit Public Limited Company (Udart), currently the sole operator on the network, tops the previous dramas. Despite its utility, questions arise on whether the project is truly worthwhile.

The World Bank stipulated that a private company must run the infrastructure for Dart to receive a $150 million loan. Dart interpreted this to mean that the operator had to have managed a project of a similar nature before. That all but eliminated local investment, but thanks to the Fifth Phase government’s nationalist bent, Udart, a merger of Uda and some daladala operators, was allowed to handle the operations despite the rules. The introduction of the Emiratis reverses the advances made.

Dart is not a high-tech system. Once constructed, the concrete-based infrastructure requires little upkeep. The off-board fare collection mechanism practically ensures revenues. The Intelligent Transport System (ITS) based on fibre automatically manages operations. The exclusive right of way provides the operator with an unrivalled competitive advantage. What remains is a simple process that does not necessitate the use of foreign rocket scientists.

To be sure, Udart has done a poor job. The wait for buses, the stampede to get onboard, and the cramming of passengers like sardines are all very Tanzanian. As a result, Dart works at less than 40 percent capacity of its current capacity, carrying around 180,000 people daily
Similarly, revenues have reflected that poor performance – and then some. For example, Dart smartcard machines, which are of sturdy construction, did not last long here. That was predictable. No person wishing to siphon money from a company wants automated processes to work. So, when passenger numbers had plummeted to 120,000, wasn’t it a reflection of the corruption that pervades society?

Nonetheless, none of this justifies the hiring of a foreign operator.

In 1983, when Uda struggled to meet demand for transport in the city, daladalas were introduced. The daladalas had become a de facto mass transit solution in Dar by the early 1990s. Despite their chaotic way of operation, they have become a necessary evil here. For me, they have made the public transport subject a little obsession of mine

There are around 7,000 daladalas in operation, with approximately 5,000 owners employing between 20,000 and 30,000 drivers and conductors. The system sustains an army of mechanics, mama ntilies, spare-part merchants, bus importers, and dozens of gas stations across the city. Simply put, this is a multi-billion-dollar industry that employs hundreds of thousands, and this means that this ecosystem should be carefully nurtured rather than disrupted.

As a result, we should all be concerned about what happens to Dart. As an infrastructure, Dart is a road network like any other, its dedication to rapid mass transit operations notwithstanding. While the World Bank provided the loan, Tanzanian taxpayers will foot the bill. Therefore, when money that is being spent enriches a few while marginalising the rest, that should concern everybody.

The Emiratis story will unfold this way – with every BRT bus displacing ten daladalas, many will end up being parked. Moreover, all Emirati buses will get fuel in one location, with all contracts going to the usual suspects. Furthermore, with the maintenance done in their garages – the mom-and-pop businesses are excluded from the supply of spare parts and mechanical services. I will not be surprised if even catering services are limited to the who-is-who, cutting off the mama ntilies. In the end, the Emiratis will hastily repatriate the money they have collected back home.

It is quite convenient that the Emiratis are setting up shop now, right before the second Dart corridor opens. The income potential will conservatively double, if not triple, in a year or so. With huge figures being flaunted on our faces, it could be used as a pretext to reduce the daladala fleet. I am not opposed to resolving the daladala issue, but not in this manner.

Furthermore, the government promised to bring in 95 new buses in March 2022. That is now said to arrive with the Emiratis, or are they separate deliveries, totalling 190? Tanzania is a free country, so draw your own conclusions.

However, given the Richmond experience, it is probable that there is neither a UAE business nor a new investment here, just public money being circulated to create an illusion of value.

When public monies are used
to clear productive land, till it, and plant it, then “foreigners” are brought in to harvest while locals get driven to the outskirts, that is not investment.

That is being taken for a ride
 
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