The passenger transportation situation in Lusaka is moving from bad to worse. Traffic congestions have now spread to almost all the roads, untarred ones included. The difference between peak and off-peak hours is slowly fading if not already extinct. The roads are congested from sunrise to sunset. Causes of congestion in Lusaka include among other things, the increase in both human populations, as well as the number of vehicles on the road, which have expanded more than the available road infrastructure. While the human population and the number of vehicles is expected to continue growing in Lusaka and elsewhere in Zambia, it is uncertain whether the road infrastructure will match that growth. Notwithstanding, there are cities in other countries with larger and denser populations than Lusaka, yet they have far less confusion and congestion, compared to what is experienced in Lusaka. This implies, therefore, that there is still room for optimisation, and this is what I try to lay on the table.
First, public service buses are proscribed from runningon roads that are not gazetted for public transport, called routes. I have no quarrels with this because it is necessary to ensure there is order in the direction of travel. Passengers also need to have clear information on how the bus will move and where they can board or alight.
Second, almost all existing routes lead to town, the central business district (CBD).Thus, the routes are designed in a spoke–hub model, in which they are organised as “spokes“, connecting to a central “hub”, or town. There are few, if any, gazetted routes from one komboni to another. I do not have the history to this, but one can speculate that either the designing and gazetting of these routes was done in the old era when ‘everyone’ worked in town, or there was insufficient demand for komboni-to-komboni routes. In the current era however, commercial entities have sprout up everywhere in Lusaka, including areas that were formerly residential. As such, the need for a transport system that delivers from everywhere to everywhere cannot be overemphasised.
The implication of such a spoke-hub road network model in a city where commercial entities are allocated everywhere, is that if they are to commute lawfully, all commuters have to pass through town (the central business district) to reach their destinations. This is true even for connecting nearby neighbourhoodssuch asChelstoneandMtendereor Mutendere and Chilenje. This is because these neighbourhoods have no gazetted direct routes. Such via-town route more than doubles the distance, time and cost. The few transporters currently providing direct links are actually doing it illegally. Our city local authorities expect every commuter to pass through town.
In many developed countries, the working class rarely own houses, but rather depend on rent. The advantage is that one rents nearest to the workplace. In Lusaka, however, the city is sprawling and many people prefer owned to rented-houses, partly due to an illusion that renting is expensive or the pride that comes with owning a house. As a result, many reside far from workplaces than would be the case in other societies facing similar circumstances.The consequence is commuting much longer distances.
Third, there still remains large areas of Lusaka that are not serviced by any route.For instance, Church Road, one of the only three available eastern outlets is not gazetted for commuter buses.This poses a challenge for people that rely on public transport to access places like Zambia Police Lusaka Division HQ, the Evelyn Hone college and many institutions in that neighbourhood. The neighbourhoods along Kasangula road provide another case of such unserved areas. This affects both workers and clients that want to access services from these areas.
The above scenarios have led to two man-made problems. The first problem is that the situation has created a high demand for ‘to and fro town’ routes because of lack of direct routes. Many people commuting to town would actually prefer alternative routes if they were available. But they are forced to get into town because that is the only way. This is one contributor to the traffic congestion that has now become characteristic of Lusaka.This also has an impact on time and financial costs, which can be avoided with well-planned public transport system. The second problem is thatcommuters are forced to use private vehicles because public transport isn’t available for some areas, or it is not just convenient. For those that own vehicles, driving becomes a non-substitutable necessity, while the less privileged, have to trek long distances,or spend more on ‘cabs.’
This situation also impacts on the country’s economy. First, the productivelabour force is spending more time commuting. Second, the long distances of commuting, and the use of private cars, imply that the country is consuming more fuel than would be optimal. Fuel imports account for a significant proportion of our total imports. Therefore, downsizing this line would have a foot-print on the country’s forex.
Our city planners and concerned authority must urgently consider options that expand the public transport sector. More roads must be designated for public service buses including the creation of a cobweb of routes, or regional hubs. The regional hub at UTH is a good exampleof such a hub, which has worked well and contributed to the reduced volume of commuters passing through town. Commuters from serviced neighbourhoods have also benefited because they are able to reach the city’s main hospital and many government ministries and departments located in the surrounding area. We must therefore look to expand these networks. For instance, there can be a route between Chelstone and Chilenje, through Mtendere, Kabulonga, etc. Another route could be created from Makeni to Zingalume, through Kanyama and Garden House.
This has the potential to benefit the city and the country at large in many ways. People will reduce on self-drive because a cheaper and convenientmode would be available,consequently contributing to a reduction in congestion. The consumption of imported fuel would certainly reduce because of transporting in ‘bulky’. There would also be a reduction on household expenses especially for the middle and lower class as they switch from car to buses, or using buses with shorter routes.