The commuters’ nightmare in Lusaka

 The commuters’ nightmare in Lusaka

By Elarm Chalusa
Commuting in Lusaka has become something of a nightmare. This in spite of the preponderance of transport.

The current situation is reminiscent of places where there is an acute shortage of transport and relative lawlessness. The following facts will attest to this assertion.

Overloading

The Hiace minibuses, earmarked to carry 12 people inclusive of the driver and conductor happen to carry as many as 20 people. How? If there is space for 2 passengers next to the driver, plus 4 passengers in each of the four rows behind with the conductor hovering above the heads of passengers closer to the exit door – that is 2+4×4 = 20.

Passengers are made to pay for the space between seats because there are four people where there should be three. Secondly, the row just before the driver’s seat meant to strictly accommodate two people takes four – never mind how they either squeeze with half the body only supported on the little space accessible or an improvised seat in form of a tin or stool. The number reduces to 19 if there is one passenger seat next to the driver’s seat.

This problem is compounded by the miniature size of these mini buses. Besides, some of them have such low roofs that one has to bow while sitting. This is dangerous when a minibus bumps over a hump or pothole.

The overloading is so acute that some passengers have to exit the bus in most instances to give way to those alighting.

Thumbs up to Flush bus drivers that are largely exempt from this misdemeanour because of their wide buses and general discipline to refrain from overloading.

Overloading versus check point

In case you are wondering how this kind of overloading is possible when Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) is so ‘present’.

Let me give you a route where police are ever present – the Airport Road. Drivers of minibuses leaving Chelstone for Airport or Meanwood Ndeke have a strategy. When approaching the check point, the conductor simply squats so that the officer at the check point cannot notice him.

Shortly after passing the check point, he towers up. The other way of circumventing this is to collect money from passengers before the bus leaves Chelstone thereby waiving the need for a conductor in a way. In such a case, passengers and driver could be 19 or 18 on a Hiace as alluded to above.

Emergency

With the kind of packing of passengers as described above, what chance exists for passengers to escape in case of an emergency?

First of all, partly because of the same overloading, most doors are damaged to such an extent that for some of them, it is the driver who has to come out and open the door from outside so that the conductor and passengers can come out!

In other instances, the door only opens with a wire which often requires familiarity. There is very little chance for passengers to escape in case of an emergency!

No hygiene no privacy

The closeness in the sitting arrangement poses a health hazard especially at the back of most of these buses which do not even have windows. May be the Ministry of Health can highlight more on this and make recommendations.

One worries about the likelihood of airborne diseases being enhanced in such enclosures. What about any regard for our women, not to talk about our young ones. The kind of squeezing which takes place is dishonourable to say the least – almost inhumane.

Loud vulgar music

It’s not uncommon to be subjected to not only loud but excessively vulgar music in all sorts of dialects. Sometimes you have to shout to draw the attention of the conductor in such little space.

As passengers, we are often afraid of taking on the conductor and driver for fear of humiliation – buy your car, use a taxi etc.

Drunk driving or drinking while driving

Watch the exchange of an Appy Apple drink bottle and only smell the content emanating from there. You soon realise its not what it looks like. Even the manner of passing the drink is suspicious.

Some of these conductors and drivers drink while driving. Some are so drunk that they play very loud music, drive erratically and at dangerous speeds.

Stopping at bus stops like bus stations

It is now common practice for a number of busses to be lined up waiting for travellers at some bus stops (such as at Northmead, Manda Hill, Arcades, UNZA and Hybrid) instead of just dropping and picking people they find there.

Bus stops have become bus stations too. See the effect that this has on the flow of traffic on the road. One can’t imagine how much commuters are delayed to reach their destinations (including work places) because some of these buses have to be filled every time someone drops.

Picking everywhere but only dropping where they choose

Minibuses can stop just about anywhere including at circles to pick people while they refuse to drop them where they choose. What is worse is refusal to take people to the destinations they have paid for.

For instance, in Meanwood Ndeke, minibuses typically pick people from Kampasa ‘Station’ to take them to Chelstone. However, when coming from Chelstone to Kampasa, minibus drivers and their conductors refuse to take people all the way to Kampasa saying that it is too far, or ‘pa wire epa station’ etc.

This is most problematic at night especially In the wake of spate of attacks on residents in that area. Some drivers and conductors simply ignore the risks faced by their passengers and drop them at the ‘wire’ which is about 2 km away from Kampasa.

Similarly, when one has boarded a bus from any point to Kulima Tower at night, in most instances, the buses simply stop at Stanley saying Kulima Tower is only a stone throw away.

Moreover, in several parts of the city; during the day, one can be picked from just about anywhere. However, when one asks to stop at a position of their choice, they will be told the reason for refusal is simple, ‘ba RTSA ba ma gwila apa’.

Again from Meanwood Ndeke to Chelstone, some bus drivers pretend their buses have developed problems and stop so that the passengers are forced to board another bus which drops them at Chelston and takes the bulk who would be proceeding to town.

Just recently this happened just before the Chelstone bus stop but passengers refused to board the second minibus while the cheating driver looked on. It was the second time he was doing that. Next time I will take note of his bus details.

New form of levy – entrenched

Is the council aware of a new form of levy exacted on bus conductors commensurate to the number of passengers a ‘call boy’ lures to the bus? I find this strange for two reasons. First, we are all able to ask a conductor on our own to tell us whether his bus is going our way or not. Therefore, what is the role of these ‘call boys’?

Secondly, is it legal for them to exact the levy on the conductors? May be some conductors and drivers benefit from this but more often than not fierce battles have ensued between these ‘call boys’ and the conductors as a result of disagreement on the payment.

Sometimes there is a gang of these ‘call boys’ demanding payment because each of them would have played a part in bringing passengers to the buses. The fights that ensue are a disturbance to the peace.

Banging on doors

The ‘call boys’ repeatedly bang on the buses to notify the driver that another client is coming so do not go. The banging is so loud and unpleasant – disturbing. Sometimes more than one person does the banging. The commuter really is at the mercy of these crews. There is need for the authorities that be to return sanity to our commuter services.

Touching commuters

Some conductors have this habit of touching commuters while ushering them into the buses. This is an example of invasion of privacy and highly disrespectful especially of our womenfolk.

Short changing commuters

Many comnuters will attest to the fact they have left K1 or K2 simply because the conductor had run out of coins or K2 notes. This is not fair because one might end up getting stranded. Suffice to note that occasionally, some conductors accept short payments.

Recommendations

  1. Demand that each minibus for public transport has a high roof, is wide enough to accommodate four passengers per row otherwise, each should strictly accommodate only three passengers per row.
  2. Ensure that each minibus has windows at the back which can open and close.
  3. Each minibus should have a working door which can open from inside as well a from outside.
  4. As for the Meanwood Ndeke area, introduce two routes being Meanwood Wire and Meanwood Kampasa. Let passengers board buses that will take them to their destinations.
  5. Each conductor should have a seat and not hover above the heads of passengers.
  6. Make it illegal for any form of music to be played on public transport. Or regulate this accordingly to the advantage of the travellers.
  7. Road worthiness tests should be strict on the condition of the doors as these could help with emergency exit from the bus.
  8. No bus should be allowed to park and start loading at a bus stop in the middle of a road as if they were at a bus station. Deploy law enforcement and introduce severe fines for defaulters to serve as deterrents. Minibuses should not be allowed to pick people between bus stops as this delays travellers unnecessarily.
  9. Minibuses should not be allowed to wait for passengers who are not already waiting to be picked at the bus stops.
  10. Minibuses should be given only a limited time of stoppage at a bus stop otherwise risk incurring prohibitive fines or face prosecution.
  11. Forbid any form of banging on doors.
  12. Forbid the role of ‘call boys’. Having them around is not a way of creating employment but promoting organised ‘chaos’.
  13. RATSA and the police plus the council should act promptly to deal with complaints of this nature. This will make the public feel empowered and safe.
  14. Instruct all Minibuses to be fitted with buzzers, which the conductor should use to notify the driver that the bus has to stop at the next bus stop. Infact, there could be several of these on each bus so that passengers who are sure of where they want to stop – sound the buzzer themselves. This would be better than the current trend where conductors also have to bang the roof of the bus although gentler.
  15. Educate the drivers and conductors on etiquette and the need to respect the comnuters – keeping the distance and putting them first.

This is not the smartest road map to addressing the concerns raised in this submission, but perhaps could serve as a starting point to once again make our commuting a pleasant experience.

 

 

 

 

The Independent Observer

https://tiozambia.com

John Sakala is a Journalist yearning for independent journalism

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