PT in TZ Posted on May 5th, 2010 by

Public transportation is very different here in Tanzania compared to the United States.  In my rural mid-west hometown, we only have two forms of public transportation.   We have a transit bus system which only works in-town and very few people use it.  And we have school buses which are used exclusively by, you guessed it, school children.  Needless to say, neither of these services are very inclusive. 

As you look across America, there are some places with better transportation means, but the overall picture is quite grim.  There are subways underneath New York City, taxis in Washington D.C., trolleys in San Francisco and Greyhound buses that run in between but in smaller cities, it is hard to get around unless you have your own means of transportation.  Americans like to be independent, and in terms of transportation they certainly are. 

In Tanzania, things are just the opposite.  Few citizens own their own cars and most take public transportation. The most common type of transportation is known as the daladala.  These mini busses shuttle passengers to every possible location.  Often painted with nonsensical slogans they are always packed with people.  Tanzanian’s don’t have a culture of ‘personal bubbles’ as Americans do and have no qualms about packing fifteen or more people in a vehicle only slightly larger than a minivan.  And when there isn’t enough room,  people hang on from outside as the daladala zooms down the road. Often pile of bananas, chickens in cages or colorful empty buckets are strapped to the top and back of the vehicle making for a precarious load. 


The next step up in transportation are buses.  These buses are like many buses you might find in any major American metropolis but a few decades older.  In fact, these buses, and many other vehicles for that matter, are imported from Japan, with Japanese writing still intact.  These buses are used within major cities, like Dar es Salaam, and between large cities (for example, between Moshi and Arusha).   Like daladalas these become packed with civilians, especially at key rush-hour times. 

Going up the transportation ladder we reach coach buses.  In Tanzania, there are a wide range of coach buses from luxury to economy.  At the top end, you can find buses with air conditioning and music videos.  At the other end you find hot, noisy dusty coach buses which just get the job done.  Most of these buses travel at high speeds, barely braking for speed bumps.  Many are not aligned properly which causes somewhat alarming sights of large buses cruising down the road diagonally.  These buses sit five across with occasional passengers standing in the aisle between stops.  Additional passengers include squawking chickens who can be particularly noisy when frightened.  When traveling down dirt roads, things can get a bit dirty.  Due to tight quarters windows need to be opened to let in a breeze.  Of course when the bus slows, the cloud of fine red dust catches up the vehicle coating everything in a grimy layer of red.  Additionally, pot-holed roads and incautious drivers create an alarmingly bumpy ride which often involves being entirely dislodged from your seat.  As may be imagined, coach buses are used for long distance travel.


Additionally, Tanzania has a few rail-lines that operate primarily in southern Tanzania and provide transportation to areas that would otherwise only be reachable by air.

If you are interested in private public transportation there are a few options.  Taxis are common and useful for late nights when daladalas are done for the day.  They are much like American taxis but are white instead of yellow and price is negotiated before departure.    Option number two is bajaji which is a small, open-sided, three-wheeled motor car which can accommodate two passengers and a driver.  These, though bumpy, are cheaper and more scenic.  And lastly, you can hire a motorcycle to transport you a short distance. 


All of these options are efficient and inexpensive.  Though you may have to wait a long time for a daladala, in the end it is more cost-effective.  Because of the well designed system in place, public transportation here makes it possible to reach any destination at a reasonable rate. 


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