While many sources claim that the first Bus Rapid Transit System was the OC Trampo in Canada introduced in 1973, the idea of BRT had existed earlier in England, the USA, Brazil and several Latin American countries. In Africa, Nigeria was the first country to adopt the BRT system into its public transport system in 2008. Other African countries that have developed BRT systems are South Africa, Morocco, Ghana and Tanzania, being the first in East Africa.
BRT is a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities through the provision of dedicated lanes, with busways and iconic stations aligned to the center of the road, off-board fare collection, and fast and frequent operations. A well-equipped BRT system has features similar to a light rail or metro system, which makes it more reliable, convenient and faster than regular bus services. A BRT system, therefore, significantly improves the efficiency of public transport by avoiding the causes of delays, such as slow traffic and queueing to pay bus fares which characterize normal bus services.
The dream to have BRT systems in East Africa has been alive for decades, with various countries mooting the idea, some implementing it and others having it fade off just moments after projects are rolled out. Reports indicate that the African continent is the second-most populated in the world, with cities growing faster than in any other continent.
Further, it is estimated that by 2050, 60% of the African population will live in towns. These statistics apply to East Africa and presuppose that East African countries need to improve their infrastructure to improve transport efficiency in their cities to keep pace with the increasing needs of the region’s population.
Since most East African urban population use public means of transport, which is already riddled with challenges of slow traffic, congestion, unreliability, costs, delays, poor roads, and accidents, investing in the BRT system seems to be the most viable solution to the public transport challenges in the region.
Tanzania’s BRT system
Tanzania has taken the lead and paved the way for the rest of the East African member states. Tanzania and Dar es Salaam are the second most populated country and city in East Africa after DR Congo and Kinshasa. Tanzania’s urban population accounts for over 22 million people, which makes Tanzanian transport system one of the most vibrant and yet characterized by congestion and delays, accidents, poor infrastructure and poor standards of vehicles and customer services.
To improve public transport, the government of Tanzania completed the first phase of the BRT system in 2015, three years after the construction began. Strabag International built the BRT system at $140 million, jointly funded by the Government of Tanzania, the African Development Bank and the World Bank.
The BRT system is managed by Usafiri Salama Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit (UDA-RT) under the supervision of the public transport watchdog, the Surface and Marine Transport regulatory authority (Sumatra), to ensure efficiency, safety, and affordability to travelers. Most, if not all, of the buses operating the BRT system routes are built by Xiamen Golden Dragon Bus Co. Ltd, a leading manufacturer of buses, vans and coaches in China.
The project was planned to be implemented in six phases. With the first phase completed thus far, and the second phase ongoing, the Tanzanian BRT system has not only improved the efficiency of transport in the country but also acted as a good example and pioneer in the region. The future of the BRT system development is prospective since the Government of Tanzania has secured $246.7 million in loans from the World Bank for the construction of phases III and IV of the BRT. Phase one of the BRT measures 21.1 kilometers, while phases two, three and four measure 19.3, 23.6, and 16.1 kilometers, respectively. It is estimated that the BRT system project will create more than 3000 jobs and generate millions of shillings to the Tanzania economy by 2035.
The Kenyan perspective
In Kenya, it is a different story. For many years there have been plans by the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (Namata) to construct a BRT system to help mitigate the chaotic public transport sector. A BRT station under construction lies along Thika highway, but the project has stalled despite the Government of Kenya, through the Ministry of Housing and Namata, assuring Kenyans that work is ongoing.
While appearing before Kenya’s National Assembly’s Transport committee in 2019, the former Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Eng. Macharia said, “The design infrastructure is going on under the Kenya National Highways Authority, which has estimated the cost to be Sh5.8 billion.”
To date, the BRT system remains a pipe dream as work has stalled on the designated BRT stations along Thika Superhighway. This comes amidst complaints from The Motorist Association of Kenya Chairman Peter Murima faulting the planned project and claiming that the BRT system construction would cause more congestion and traffic snarl-ups due to poor design.
Uganda and Rwanda have also mooted the BRT idea and initiated plans to implement the BRT system, with both conducting feasibility studies and preliminary design works. However, significant steps have yet to be commenced, making the BRT dream remain just that – a dream.
Benefits of BRT systems
Dedicated lanes and alignment
Bus-only lanes make for faster travel and ensure that BRT buses are not delayed by mixed traffic congestion and chaotic behaviour.
Off-board fare collection
BRT systems allow travelers to pay fares at the station prior to boarding the buses, which eliminates inconveniences, delays, and queues resulting from onboard paying.
BRT systems prohibit turns for traffic across bus lanes, thus significantly reducing delays.
BRT system station platforms are on the same level as the bus floor for quick and easy boarding and alighting. This makes BRT easily accessible for all passengers, including disabled passengers, with minimal inconveniences.
On the other hand, the demerits of BRT systems include the high cost of constructing graded lanes, which requires huge capital. Additionally, although BRT systems aim to construct lanes with no mixed traffic interference, this may be challenging to attain.
Moreover, implementing new bus lanes with street restructuring and widening may displace parking and pedestrian paths and disrupt traffic flow on other roads. Successful implementation of BRT systems requires collaborative goodwill from transport stakeholders, funders, investors, and citizens, which takes a lot of work to attain.