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Quite often, when the commuter transport rates go up, there is too much ado between the commuters and the commuter bus attendants but all the fuss is unnecessary. Unnecessary because the government has set up a regulatory agency whose sole responsibility is to oversee and liaise with the stakeholders on what should be the rates so as to lessen the troubles met by both parties, namely, commuters and the commuter bus conductors and to a greater extents touts.
This is completely different with what you see in the developed countries. Yes, things are different here in Canada where I am sitting to reflect upon life back home in Tanzania, and a number of African countries where I have had the opportunity to sojourn. Similar to the situation in Tanzania and other African countries, there are regulatory agencies dealing with public transport issues. The only difference one sees in a number of developed economies is that there is that little respect by such agencies to prepare the commuters by giving notice well in advance.
When such notices are given, the agencies are also sure to tell the commuters what improvements they are going to make as part of increasing public transport costs. This in a way gives the commuter to take the agency responsible for public transport to task if the system does not work as per the promised outcomes. Having said this, I should also echo the fact that politics in North America and Africa is the same when it comes to globalising capitalism.Bongo’s Public Transport Transformation
Looking back at the time when I used public transport a lot, and I will still use this system when I go back home, (and yes, it is cheaper that taking a cab or fuelling own car) Tanzania’s Surface and Marine Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) tried at some point to address the woes that engulfed public transport sector. Not so much the regional transport rates but particularly city commuter services.
In reforming or improving the public transport, they did not only increase the fares but also decided that all the workers must have uniforms. This was as a result of commuters complaining about the unkempt appearances of the workers in this sector, on the one hand. On the other hand, the Dar es Salaam public transport caucus – especially the drivers and their money-collectors wanted to have security at their work places. This was done but I am not sure whether there was any improvement.
One of the most intriguing experiences in the Daladala (local name for public transport), and sometimes humiliating, occurs when a commuter wants to know what the legally approved price on a certain route is. The answer one gets is either a helpful or a humiliating one. “I am not SUMATRA” I once heard a public bus attendant answer a commuter, who apparently was not a resident of Dar es Salaam. The only thing the customer had to say is, “Tanzania has really changed. We are not the humble people any longer!”
If you ever used this mode of transport as I do, and you are a Tanzanian, then you know well what difficulties commuters face and you will agree with me that the attendants of the public commuter buses makes life difficult for their clients for no reason. To them commuters are just a bunch of pockets from which they fulfil the demands put on them by the bus owners. It would seem reasonable for the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure in Tanzania to enable SUMATRA with some iron-teeth to bite deeper into the impunity with which bus owners handle those in their employ. This would be interesting as a number of officers working with SUMATRA and the traffic police own fleets of buses plying different routes in Dar es Salaam.
Pressure and the Law
I once witnessed an argument between a conductor and a commuter on a Mwenge bound Daladala which ended up with some shouting of words you would not like your three year olds to hear. The conductor became physical, and roughed up the commuter.
The commuter then resorted to call the #911 once the bus reached Mwenge bus terminal. At this juncture the conductor’s attitude changed drastically. He begun to beg calling the man who a few minutes ago was less than a ‘shameless and naked monkey.’ “Ndugu yangu” (my brother/my kin), naomba unisaidie mdogo wako, ni hali ya maisha ndiyo yanabana, nipo miguuni pako..!” (My brother, have favour on me your younger brother. It is the hardship of life which causes all this; I’m under your feet.)
Between the lines, one could read that this carefree attendant was fully aware of the laws governing the commuter transport sector but decided to take his client on a rough ride exploiting and calling them names. These laws are not only enshrined in the regulatory frameworks for surface and marine transport but are also crystalised on the Dar es Salaam Commuter Bus Owners’ Association (DARCOBOA) regulations. However, as it is common in Tanzania, there is no enforcement of the law. No one cares. This is not to suggest that the commuters are innocent, not a chance. There are commuters who deserve the treatment they receive from the public transport attendants. Some commuters do not treat the attendants as fellow human beings.
OK. Let us agree that the nature of this fleeting relationship suggests that commuter transport sector is a profession with no expertise. This calls for swift actions from the stakeholders to save the reputation of this most needed service in the Tanzanian society not the current scenario of inhumane activities, manipulation and exploitation.
It must also be pointed out that the owners have not placed good infrastructure in place to cater for the needs of their employees. This sector is like many other informal/private employments which do not have security whatsoever. This may be the reason behind aggressive character among public transport sector. Irrespective of all that happens; commuters, attendants and the owners live in the same reality economically speaking. This impunity should be uprooted from among Tanzanians living in Dar es Salaam and other urban areas and be replaced by a renewed sense of kinship that was the banner of the Tanzanian society. One’s pursuit of wealth should not turn our fellows into our foes.