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Photo: The Guardian
In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, bus rapid transit on the Morogoro Road has cut typical commute times from four hours a day to 90 minutes.

Big challenges sometimes get resolved more efficiently when fancy solutions are bypassed in favor of more straightforward ones. That is what a large African city discovered when it chose the concept of dedicated bus lanes over building a subway.

Nick Van Mead has the report at the Guardian, “Dusk falls in Dar es Salaam, and for hundreds of thousands of people in this African megacity-to-be the daily chaos and frustration of the journey home begins.

“People cram themselves into dalla dalla minibuses, some even climbing through the windows once the entrance is blocked. Others hang out of the doors, but the Kilwa Road heading south towards Mbagala slum is jammed and these diesel-belchers are going nowhere fast.

“On Bagamoyo Road to the wealthier areas in the north, solo drivers in blacked-out 4x4s sit stationary too – captive customers for the hawkers. … So far, so normal for a sprawling megalopolis of 6 million with virtually no public transport and only eight lanes of major road heading to and from the centre.

“Dar es Salaam, the de facto capital of Tanzania, is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. Its population has increased eightfold since 1980 and swells by half a million people every year. The latest UN projections anticipate it will become a megacity within seven years as its population passes 10 million. …

“Dar es Salaam is pinning its hopes on a solution that could offer a different model for Africa’s megacities, giving them an alternative to a future in thrall to the private car. Unlike many cities on the continent, Dar es Salaam isn’t trying to build a metro. It has chosen a less sexy but cheaper and more achievable route: the bus. …

“The Dart system boasts bus lanes separated from other traffic, mostly in the middle of the road to reduce stoppages. Ticket payment and control takes place at stations rather than on board, while step-free stations and boarding mean the entire route is accessible to people in wheelchairs or with buggies. …

“The average journey time from the centre to the terminus at Kimara has been slashed from two hours each way to just 45 minutes, according to sustainable transport group the ITDP. That adds up to a saving of around 50 hours a month for the average bus passenger making the full trip. The ITDP awarded the system Africa’s only ‘gold standard’ bus rapid transit (BRT) rating.

“ ‘The new buses are much, much better,’ says Paulas George, a young IT worker waiting at Manzese station. He takes the bus every day and it has cut his journey time by two-thirds. He says it is not perfect though, complaining drivers sometimes turn off the air conditioning to save fuel.

“That is not the only teething problem. A shortage of buses after the main depot flooded during the 2017 rainy season means the system is carrying 200,000 people a day – half the expected capacity. Smartcard readers at station entrances aren’t working either, forcing passengers to buy individual paper tickets for every journey. Each is printed with a scannable QR code, but there are no scanners. Station staff stand by the gates and tear tickets as people enter. …

“ ‘Much of the city will have access to a world-class transport system within the space of a few years,’ says Chris Kost, the ITDP’s Africa director. All phases are being planned to gold standards and, once complete, a third of city residents will be within a 10-minute walk of the BRT network. …

“Kost [sees the metro fad] as political expediency. ‘Because metro systems don’t take up road space and don’t take away from cars then they are politically easier,’ he says. ‘Politicians see it as a big project with no sacrifices. But what if it never gets built? What if what is built is too expensive and so limited in size it leaves the majority of city residents no better off?

“ ‘It can be tempting for those in power, but is it really addressing the needs of people of the city? Bus rapid transit has been transformational for Dar es Salaam. For millions of people in African cities, this is their best hope of ever being connected.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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I’m in Harlem this weekend with five other family members in a leafy neighborhood, mostly very quiet.

Well, not always quiet in the middle of the night when, on more than one occasion, I’ve woken up wondering, “Should I be calling 911?” Fortunately, last night’s commotion didn’t seem like a true 911 issue. Her: “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” Him: “But I love you!”

I went back to sleep.

Margareta and Jimmy, mostly recovered from the jetlag caused by a long flight from Sweden on Wednesday, spent Friday afternoon wandering around Chelsea art galleries.

They got a kick out of taking the bus back north, watching as the mostly white clientele became the mostly black clientele, observing the people interactions, and trying to understand the rapid English conversations. (Of course, like most Swedes, they are great at English, and a whole bunch of other languages.)

Margareta was fascinated by one episode that took place as the bus approached Harlem. A boy of about 10 tried to sneak on behind his friend. It seemed that he did not have the bus pass that is routine for New York school children. Margareta was impressed that the driver was not too stern and just told him to have the pass next time. Meanwhile a woman on the bus, possibly from his school, told the boy not to worry, that the school would help him get a new pass.

A day in the life.

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