Crossing the busy streets of downtown Harare can be a life-threatening act. Only recently a primary school boy, crossing a busy intersection with his mother, was hit by a speeding kombi.
A police report says the mother and son were crossing Jason Moyo Avenue along Mbuya Nehanda Street – a congested intersection – when the kombi was caught picking up passengers at an undesignated area by the police. Initially it tried to escape westwards along Jason Moyo but on finding the way blocked, suddenly reversed and veered right across Jason Moyo, ramming into the unsuspecting pedestrians.
“The boy was caught full in the body, dragged across the street and only then flung across the street thrown to the side – clothes literally torn from the body,” said a vendor selling airtime on the corner. “The kombi driver just drove off,” he said angrily.
According to Smart Dumba, teaching assistant (Traffic and Transportation Planning) at the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Rural & Urban Planning, the key challenge to traffic flow in Harare has been the unprecedented growth in traffic, thanks to the importation of vehicles from Japan.
“This growth has overwhelmed the transportation infrastructure, such as roads, signalisation and parking facilities,” says Dumba. “While the introduction of the one-way street system has improved traffic flow in some street segments, it has its own challenges in terms of discordant intersection geometrical configuration and the volume of traffic generated by one way flows.”
“Intersection geometrical design in Harare is for a two-way street system, but functionally it is serving one way traffic flows. Hence the traffic volume component overwhelms signalization,” he explains.
Other challenges, according to Dumba, revolve around public transport operations in Harare. Because of their operational behaviour, kombis and pirate taxis create their own termini on roadsides and close to intersections, creating bottlenecks to traffic flow through an effective reduction of road width and the generation and attraction of large volumes of pedestrian traffic. Pedestrian traffic reduces vehicular traffic speeds and hence generates traffic queuing and delays.
Closely linked to the above, the driving behaviour of kombi drivers leaves a lot to be desired. Kombi drivers are known for aggressive driving behaviour as evidenced by poor lane discipline. This is particularly evident during peak periods where kombi drivers do not follow queuing order but ‘cut through’ other traffic and sometimes use opposite lanes, all adding to the chaos.
An officer at Town House, speaking on condition of anonymity, says one of the problems is that Harare’s congestion index is unknown, as empirical studies have not been conducted to determine the congestion levels in the capital. Such studies would include travel time studies, network and intersections capacity analyses.
“The congestion issue in Harare still remains a qualitative story devoid of empirical evidence,” he explains.
Edna Chirombe, a Chisipite commuter, complained to Harare News, “Council changes ranks willy-nilly without enough time to inform commuters. We usually end up at some undesignated points where kombis come to pick us up while these council police harass them.”
Gilbert Machinya, an owner-driver behind the wheel of a small March “pirate” taxi – unregistered and permit-less – says, “we are advised to move and rank at places where there is no passenger traffic – it does not make business sense.”
Janet Dube, who also works near the above accident scene, says not a day passes without an incident. She says police need to enforce regulations and refuse bribes.
“It is a terrible thing which has happened. We are all just totally bewildered. At the moment I am pretty cut up,” she says, adding: “I will have to live with those scenes in my head forever.”
Council has remained mum on their plans to address the situation. Repeated questions and visits to the Town House public relations department have drawn a blank.
A police spokesperson however, emphasised: “The message is exactly the same to all road users whether they are a pedestrian, a car user or cyclist – we have to look out for each other irrespective of the time of day or night.”