The Drivers of the dala dalas in Dar have only one incentive; to make more than TZS 100,000.00 a day. Yes, that is the sum total a dala dala driver is required to bring to his boss - the owner of the those ubiquitous little traveling machines. Anything earned above that amount goes first towards fuel and then the remainder is split with the conductor. This TZS 100,000 offers a strange incentive for the rest of us on the road. The dala dala driver knows he must hand over that bottom line figure each day in order for him to keep his job. So to him nothing else matters, regardless of the consequences he will always race, slow down, over take or block other cars in order for him (and always a male) to get the next passenger, or in his mind the next opportunity to top off that TZS 100,000 for his own income. But please do not start pointing the finger to the bus drivers alone in the city. This behavior is aided by two other economic agents: the bus owner and the traffic police.
The bus owner is in business to make money. So he also does not care what may come. He is not concerned with his drivers following road safety, navigating treacherous, rain-soaked streets, or even letting a pedestrian cross at the cross-walk. For the bus owner, what matters most is that TZS 100,000.00 a day. A dala dala driver might suffer if he does not deliver that bottom line amount, but he will never get in trouble from the owner if he fails to follow driving laws. It’s an incentive that, in fact, encourages the driver to be egregiously inconsiderate to wellbeing of others on the road.
As incongruous as it sounds, the traffic police (the very people whose job it is to keep drivers protected and traffic safe) are utterly corrupt. That corruption provides a sense of security only to the dala dala drivers, who know that they can bribe their way out of any situation. Safe in the knowledge that there is no need to follow traffic laws, they can be as maniacal as they want on the road, all in the name of topping off that TZS 100,000. In fact, the traffic police have reached such an extreme level of corruption that their bosses saw the need to outsource their job! They brought in the Majembe Auction Mart to put a noose on the dala dala driver’s head. Unfortunately, that outsourcing did not pay off. The incentive of the Majembe is not safety or an orderly transportation system, but to arrest as many of the death vehicles as possible so they can get paid.
The result of the above scenario is a serious assault on a precious public good – road safety.
As I am writing this more people are being killed on the road because dala dalas, large trucks, bajajes, and taxi drivers know no boundaries in their pursuit of a little profit. A study published by the East African News Paper in March ranked Tanzania as the second highest in East and Central Africa for deaths caused by road accidents.
The problem of having a transportation system where buses are run by individual owners is that their incentives and those of their agents will never align with the needs of public safety. Safety requires players to sacrifice a small piece of their profit for the greater good? Is that possible when one individual’s bottom line is the only incentive? Is there a way to avoid buses overtaking each other on a single lane road just to get another TZS 500 first? Is there a way to avoid buses stopping traffic to pick a passenger in the middle of the street rather than the official bus stops? Is there a way to prevent the disregard for others on the road when the only incentive is individual profit?
That is why developed societies always have bus companies provide service to the city dwellers. Under the system of a bus company, it does not matter which bus picked up a particular passenger because all drivers are motivated to serve the same owner – the shareholder. Consistent and adequate salaries further encourage drivers to focus on safety rather than mad dashes for profit. With a bus company, the incentive is to remain safe so that the company can have as many passengers as possible.
The new Dar es Salaam bus system, DART, has been in planning for the last five years, waiting to replace the defunct UDA. Every time a new report comes out to explain reasons for its delay, it is so cumbersome it reminds you of Andy Cap and the drinking gang. If these death machines are running for decades now they must be profitable to the owners. Why not just force the same owners to form a company and list it in the stock exchange. Furthermore, the government could issue bonds through a municipality to increase the capital of the company. That way there would be ample funds to modernize the system. These bonds could be paid back using ticket money and renting out vital “moving” space to the advertisers. If the fairy godfather (i.e. world bank) wants to help, they can help. They can go to the market and buy some of those shares!