• Combi owners in uproar
Tongues went wagging last week Thursday and the Ministry of Transport and Communications had to work hard to calm down mini bus (combis) operators, about a new development of changing the transport system in the country.
Most countries around the world rely in the rapid line mass transit system, and Botswana as a developing country also want to tap into it to avoid congestion in the city of Gaborone. When giving the project objectives the Project Officer Mr Ranko revealed that the study commenced in September 2014. He said it is their aim to have a mass rapid system in order to promote the use of public transport to private car owners the same way it has proven to work in countries like Brazil, Singapore and Malaysia where public transport is the favourite mode of transport than private cars because of their speed and time. He said one thing that they want is to create mobility opportunities for all, which in this case even includes the disabled, and also to provide enabling legislative changes.
The project is led by Neil Fitt-the Transport Hub Coodinator, who revealed that the current population of Gaborone is a quarter of a million and already there are problems with traffic control. He said they saw the need to act on this faster in order to avoid situations that countries like Nigeria went through in cities like Lagos because they acted very late when traffic was already way out of control. “If you do not plan well you suffer the consequences, and that is why we want to act now,” he said. He said around 2001 there were only 170 000 vehicles registered in Botswana, but there are currently about half a million because in 2011 they stood at 430 000. He said 50 per cent of the vehicles are in Gaborone alone which gives the city a lot of congestion. He said considering that Gaborone is a small city the traffic is disproportional to the number of people. He said that though they do not have a blue print of what they are going to do, after the final consultations and findings they want to adopt the modern system because a lot of countries have gone through that, even the neighbours South Africa. He said that right now they are working on roads in order to prepare for the transition. At the moment they are putting intersections along the western by-pass and also looking at defining the entrants and exits points at the bus rank. “We want a modernised traffic flow system that works according to the flow of traffic, and if this can happen we will see public transport having dedicated lines,” he said.
One of the consultants Glory Jonga who is Vice President for CPCS applauded the time that Botswana chose for intervening because the situation is not yet dire. He said it is important to arrest the situation now before it gets worse. Jonga said what causes most traffic in Gaborone is minibuses, which stands at about 3000 in Gaborone only, while for rapids only about 300 will be needed to do the same job in a more efficient manner. He advised that with a good transport system, a modal shift can also be seen coming in place where car owners will park their cars in order to use public transport. He said one thing that should be understood is that combis cause a lot of emissions, while the rapid usually use less energy as they use bio fuel. He said the size of them will definitely allow then to carry many people for enhanced travel experience and reduced travel times. His colleague Amos Ditima added that they have so far consulted several departments like Mapping and Surveying, Ministry of Education on how they can also handle school buses and Statistics Botswana among others. He said though for the Botswana survey they benchmarked in South Africa and Brazil, it is important that from their findings Botswana develops a home grown system that will work for both parties. He said that it showed that the universal accessibility of routes in Botswana is very poor and that bus stop shelters are old and needs to be repaired. One thing that he applauded is the distance between the bus stops which he said is quite good. Ditima revealed that it shows very well that when roads were planned in Botswana there was no integration between urban planning, transport planning and land planning. He said that there is also the oversupply of permits and the combis are in a bad state while the roads are not even disabled worthy. “There is need to restructure existing institutions and current transport operators should be taken on board,” he said.
When sharing lessons learned from study tours to South Africa and Brazil, Gaborone Taxi Association Chairperson Gopolang Tlhomelang seemed to have been impressed with the system as he assured that it can work well for transport operators. Tlhomelanng went to both South Africa and Brazil to see how the mass rapid system works there and how former transport operators were groped in. On giving his findings about what he learnt in South Africa, he shared that South Africa took about 10 years to engage with transport operators because they wanted to avoid pitfalls, while in Botswana they believe that the government has already taken a decision and is just talking to them as a formality. He shared that in South Africa they created the buy in and buy out system where buying a permit by transport operators meant that they were buying shares in George Company which operates the mass rapids. He said all the drivers were then trained by Mercedes which won a contract for that, and they are now fully employed with benefits, leave days and a pension, something that they did not have before. “Of course they said that in the beginning they were also sceptical, but it has proven to be working for them and they are now happy because they now have good working conditions,” he said. He added that if Botswana can adopt the same system, then he can for sure assure his fellow transport operators that this will work well for them since the rapids have three driver shifts for each bus. He said this can work if government subsidises the project.
He said in Brazil they work as a cooperative and that has also proven to avoid fights as everyone is invested in making money for the cooperative. He said though he knows that change is hard, if the government works well with them and takes them on board the way they saw in other countries then they don’t have anything to worry about. But their outcry was that this might benefit well the permit holders, because most of them have been trading under people’s permits. The ministry of transport assured them that everything will be looked into and they will engage them again on the matter. CPCS said if everything is agreed upon they will then start with a pilot corridor next year on one of the busy routes, which might be Mogoditshane-Molepolole road which has many people who use public transport.
Transport operators were consulted, and are aware of what the ministry is planning to do. The ministry engaged CPCS to consult with the transport operators after a thorough research was done in Botswana since last year. CPCS is an international consulting firm that is based in Canada, providing advisory services to public and private sector clients in the infrastructure sector and it has rich experience covering America, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia. With their vast reputation having made way for the best transport system around the world, the ministry engaged them to help turn their ideas and plans into success.