Dar es Salaam began to make headlines last year for being the first major city in east Africa to fully implement a bus-rapid transit system, and now the capital of Tanzania is being talked about even more after it was announced that the city is the winner of the 2017 Sustainable Transport Award. The award is given every year by a leading global non-profit, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), which advocates for sustainable transportation projects around the globe.
ITDP’s Sustainable Transport Award
In being awarded the 14th annual Sustainable Transport Award, Dar es Salaam becomes the first African city to win a major public transportation prize. The award was announced at ITDP’s Mobilize conference in Santiago, Chile, which was last year’s winner. As well as winning the award, Dar es Salaam now has the honor of hosting the 2018 Mobilize conference.
The Sustainable Transport Award is given each year to the city that shows the most dedication and greatest ‘vision in sustainable transport and urban livability.’ In addition to Santiago, past winners of the award include Guangzhou, New York City, San Francisco, Paris, London, Seoul, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City.
The History and Future of DART
As part of its role as global transit advocate, ITDP was actually instrumental in bringing the bus-rapid transit system to the Tanzanian capital. The project began in 2003 when ITDP gained support from the city’s mayor and local NGO leaders. In partnership with the World Bank, USAID and other international development organizations assisted the city with planning the project and finally in 2013, work officially began on the Dar es Salaam bus-rapid transit system, known locally as DART.
The bus-rapid transit (BRT) system is designed to function similarly to metros and light-rail in order to facilitate mass public transit. Through the use of dedicated BRT lanes and modern stations, the system is able to bypass traffic congestion to dramatically speed up commute times. With DART, many locals have had their commutes cut in at least half and no longer have to spend hours stuck in traffic.
Currently, DART is still only in the opening stages of its first phase and has 140 buses in operation that serve approximately 160,000 passengers. The first phase is scheduled to be fully functional sometime next year, at which point the goal is to have 300 buses and serve approximately 400,000 passengers per day. Eventually the city has plans to complete at least four phases in an effort to expand DART to cover most of the capital.
The Future of African Mass Transit?
In truth, there isn’t anything all that special about DART, at least in terms of the buses and design of the system, which are all based on the current best global practices. However, what is impressive is the way that the city was able to incorporate the system into an already hugely congested urban area. By including dedicated BRT lanes and even a BRT-only street running through the city center, DART is able to avoid being bogged down by traffic congestion.
For this reason, officials from many other cities are already beginning to look at Dar es Salaam as a model for how they can institute similar BRT systems in their own cities. The fact is that most African cities are far too congested and don’t have nearly the required infrastructure to build metros or light-rail. Therefore, this type of bus-rapid transit is generally the only feasible option. Already Uganda’s Kampala Capital City is planning on instituting a similar BRT system based on the Dar es Salaam model. Similarly, officials from Lusaka, Zambia and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia have visited Tanzania to see DART first hand. Based on this evidence, it seems that Dar es Salaam may have just shown us the future of mass transit in Africa.