When the rebuilding of Dar es Salaam’s transport infrastructure began about a decade ago, city residents could not understand why the Morogoro dual carriageway was being demolished when the works started.
They could also not fathom the far-reaching implications the proposed new mode of transport — the so-called BRT system dubbed Dar es Salaam Rapid Transport or Dart system — would have on their lives or change the city’s look.
As the construction works began, the endless dust was unbearable to motorists, pedestrians and residents who lived along the affected roads, as heavy earth moving equipment dug, scrapped and compacted, and trucks carted away the debris.
Traffic snarl-ups became the order of the day for residents of the sprawling Kimara, Mbezi Mwisho, Kibamba and other suburbs through which Morogoro and Kawawa roads passed. The newly built foot bridges and commuter bus stop shelters erected along the way were not enough to placate the suffering residents.
Commuters spent hours stuck in traffic in the stifling Dar es Salaam heat from dawn till late into the night, quietly wondering whether the project was worth the trouble.
Although it was said that the rapid bus transit system would ease transport to and from the central business district, it seemed unlikely then in the eyes of commuters, motorists, pedestrians and the people living along Kawawa and Morogoro roads, that this would ever come to pass.
Now that almost 50 per cent of the project is done, the Dart system, Kigamboni Bridge, reconstruction and expansion of major city roads, and the changing skyline have transformed the city’s environmental aesthetics. Indeed, Unesco says that Dar es Salaam is the second fastest growing city in Africa after Bamako in Mali.
Today, the long blue Dart commuter buses snake their way in and out of the CBD on designated lanes, next to daladalas (privately-owned public transport vehicles) from Kimara and Kinondoni suburbs, picking passengers at specially built up bus stops.
Even the formerly drab districts of the city such as Magomeni, Ubungo and the Jangwani stretch have been transformed by new roads and buildings. The areas are orderly and beautiful from the new greenery planted along the roadside. Many would-be commuters see no need to drive into the CBD as many services are now easily available since the new roads have opened up the areas for commerce.
The Dart system has changed the city in such a way that if you are a photography enthusiast, it is quite a joy to capture the beauty of the rebuilt and gentrified districts with a modern skyline; of traffic as it snakes towards Magogoni Ferry or even Kariakoo, which was once a cacophony of daladalas, shoppers, bodabodas (motorcycle taxis) and tuk tuks (three-wheeler taxis).
The Dart system has significantly reduced commuting hours into and out of the city, time that can be used for productive economic activities, but was not so long ago wasted in endless traffic snarl-ups.
Statistics by Dart estimate that almost half a million empty seats drove to and from the CBD (by single occupier vehicles) causing serious traffic snarl-ups. Today, just months since the launch of Dart system, there is less traffic congestion meaning more commuters are opting to use Dart buses although no figures are available yet.
It is expected that after the completion of the second phase, the Dart system will significantly mitigate traffic jams. Dar es Salaam residents agree that the system has brought massive convenience.
Thomas Massawe, a city commuter, says that using the Dart system bus takes him less than 30 minutes from Kimara to Magogoni, a journey of 23km, which took not less than two hours before.
“The buses give us express rides to Mbezi Mwisho. Special lanes ensure that the buses only stop at their designated stops to drop and pick passengers. They don’t have to wait for passengers who are not at the bus stop,” he said.
In 1999, when this writer first arrived in Dar es Salaam, the city was just as vibrant, but the roads and housing were in a shambles. It was a typical centuries-old Swahili city, much like Mombasa then too. The past decade has seen it go through modernisation with the first phase of the Dart system, which covers 21.1km from Kimara, Morocco, Kariakoo and Kivukoni fish market.
The city has been one huge construction site in recent years — commercial and government buildings coming up on all corners. Old houses were coming down fast, being replaced by modern skyscrapers, especially on the waterfront, sometimes sparking angry protests from social and environmental activists who decried the demolition of old houses deemed to be part and parcel of the city’s heritage.
Kariakoo, a mixture of commercial and residential district, where more money changes hands than any other part of the city (think Eastleigh in Nairobi, Kisenyi in Kampala and Nyabugogo Gatsata in Kigali) was dotted with dilapidated buildings that over the past few years have given way to skyscrapers. Areas along Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road, extending from Mwenge (the largest city bus terminus) have also been undergoing rapid change with new developments for both commercial and residential use.
Towering above the Kigamboni creek is a cable-stayed bridge spanning 680 metres, described as East Africa’s longest, linking the city with the southern municipality of Kigamboni and Mbagala surburbs and environs.
The bridge was built at a cost of $140 million by the China Railway Construction Engineering Group and China Railway Major Bridge Group. Construction began in 2012 and it was inaugurated on April 19 this year by President John Magufuli.
To ease the movement of cargo from the inland container depots strewn all over Kurasini, Mandela Road, which serves as an exit from the port of Dar es Salaam, has been transformed into a maze of ring roads and bypasses that have also changed this part of the city by bringing sanity to traffic movement.
Approaching the bridge from Mandela Road, you get scenic views of its huge metal cables, just like bridges in the developed world.
The aesthetics are further enhanced by the dhows and boats littering the shore in the mangroves. Prior to the completion of the bridge, these boats were used to ferry commuters across the creek from Kigamboni to Kurasini in the south. Today, depending on the type, vehicles using the new Kigamboni bridge pay toll.
The bridge was an extension of the Kigamboni project that was intended to transform Kigamboni municipality into a satellite city.
Though some people complain about the toll charges, the general agreement is that the bridge has, besides transforming Dar es Salaam, eased transport that for so long relied on the Kigamboni ferry service.
“Although there is a problem, as we have to pay every time we cross to and from the city, waiting for the ferry is not as time consuming as it was. In any case, we paid Tsh1,500 ($0.7) for small cars to use the ferry. The Tsh2,000 ($0.9) we pay as bridge toll is fair given the time saved,” said Dunstan Kamazima, a resident of Kigamboni.