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Deal with the traffic jungle once and for all

For several years now, Harare City traffic officers and the police have been jointly carrying sporadic “operations” purportedly to bring sanity to Harare’s traffic jungle with little success.

From the Editor’s Desk with Caiphas Chimhete

The piecemeal operations, which in most cases last a few days, have caused more confusion than taming the traffic jungle.

It has become common to see commuter omnibuses and taxis racing in the opposite direction along one way streets with either the police or municipal officers in hot pursuit, risking the lives of passengers on board and even pedestrians.

The police and city fathers must be reminded that it is their mandate to ensure the safety of both motorists and pedestrians on Harare’s pot-holed roads.

In direct violation of this mandate, municipal traffic officers continue to throw spikes on speeding kombis resulting in some crashing against electricity poles, and into shops, killing innocent passengers and pedestrians in the process.

Though police officers have been told that smashing windscreens of vehicles is illegal, they continue to do it with impunity.

They have become a law unto themselves.

It raises questions about the sincerity of police spokesperson, Charity Charamba when she publicly stated last year that it was illegal for police officers to smash windscreens of vehicles as it exposed people to danger.

But what is baffling as it is worrying is that the police continue to do it in broad daylight, as if they have the blessings of their superiors.

It appears the local authority is more interested in raising money from traffic offences to fund the obscene salaries and huge allowances of its executives than addressing the traffic chaos and improving on service delivery.

Just a fortnight ago, council and police embarked on a traffic blitz and impounded 947 vehicles for various offences, raising US$150 000.
This came soon after the city had also hiked clamping and tow-away fees for illegally parked vehicles from US$112 to US$423.

Before the increase, the city charged US$57 for wheel clamping for small vehicles, US$80 for kombis while the charge for towing-away kombis was fixed at US$123.

Raising fines without addressing real issues will not solve the problem of traffic congestion. It is puzzling that for the past two years, the city council has also failed to complete construction of kombi holding bays along Coventry Road.

Last year, council spokesperson, Leslie Gwindi assured residents, motorists and commuters that the bays would be operational “next week” but since then nothing has happened.

It is natural that the idea of holding bays, like any operational changes, would initially be resisted by kombi operators, but with time they will appreciate its nobility.

What are needed are consistent and enforceable policies to deal with the traffic jungle once and for all.

The city council should find better means of enforcing the by-law that stipulates kombis should only pick or drop passengers at designated points.

It is more professional and useful to just jot down the number plates of the offending vehicles and make a follow-up to arrest, just like what happens in other developed countries, rather than throwing spikes at vehicles in motion.

It would definitely not present any problems if council worked closely with the Central Vehicle Registry (CVR) in tracking down cars that would have sped off after breaking road rules.

On numerous occasions, I have seen traffic police officers — in full uniform and brandishing batons — practically controlling those small shuttle cars that illegally pick up commuters along Leopold Takawira Street at Noczim House going to Avondale.

Instead of arresting the drivers, they actually aid in commissioning the crime.

What they get from doing that is anybody’s guess.

Italy is one country which also faces a problem of traffic congestion and rule-breaking by motorists in Rome, one of the world’s most car-dense populations. Cars are parked at islands, pavements or simply “abandoned” in the road.

Thanks to technology that has brought citizen journalism, they have found a civilised way of dealing with the problem.

Police there have enlisted the power of social media to help them get to grips with the endemic problem. Citizens who spot illegally parked cars can alert a dedicated police Twitter account to enable them to take immediate action.

Though such measures will not work in our situation, there is definitely need to devise better and sober methods of dealing with the traffic jungle in Harare.

I have a feeling that some people are benefitting from the traffic chaos and would therefore want the status quo to prevail.

With a large percentage of the commuter omnibuses in Harare reportedly owned by police officers, it is not surprising that enforcing traffic regulations, especially on kombis, is a mammoth task.

Greater Harare Association of Commuter Omnibus Operators chairman, Cosmas Mbonjani told a parliamentary committee on transport recently that traffic problems were exacerbated by corrupt police and Vehicle Inspection Department (VID) officials, who own kombis.

Mbonjani observed that some traffic police who own kombis are deployed to supervise routes where their own vehicles operate and in such circumstances, they make sure that their vehicles benefit more from the business at the expense of others.
How come kombis with smashed windscreens are allowed to continue to operate?

Is it difficult to enforce the regulation that only those above 25 years can drive public transport vehicles?

The order by Chihuri for police officers to get out of the commuter omnibus businesses is not only difficult to enforce, but is again piecemeal and reactive.

What is needed to tame Harare’s traffic jungle is the political will to root out corruption among the traffic police and municipal officers to ensure that city by-laws and road regulations are enforced without fear or favour.

The city council and police must study how big cities like Johannesburg in SA — which has so many cars including kombis — manage a smooth flow of traffic even during rush hours.

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