By Paul Ndiho, Washington D.C
The democratic republic of Congo is set to overhaul its public transport network, with a fleet of new buses. Public transportation in Congo is said to be among the worst in the region. Many commuters are forced to travel in dilapidated vehicles that often leave them stranded– or even dead.
For years, residents in the Congo capital, Kinshasa, have struggled with a poor and unreliable public transportation. Traveling across a city with ten million people can be a chaotic. Commuters often have to push and shove just to get onto a bus– some even resort to climbing through the bus’s windows to hitch a ride.
One concerned resident says commuters often have no choice but to use the old and broken-down blue and yellow buses.
“The buses known as 207 (spirit of death) Are not road worthy. The seats are too small, and it feels cramped inside. We have risked accidents on several occasions, it is really risky to use.”
But this image is about change, the government recently introduced a new line of buses, called Transco. The new Mercedes-Benzes buses have a seating capacity of 55 and are much more spacious.
Jacques Henrique, Transco’s director-general, says they plan to expand the new initiative throughout the country.
“We will gradually increase the number of new buses. Well, as many as the government wants us to provide, until we reach a point where we have met all the requirements of Kinshasa’s public transport system and after that, we will then look into expanding into the rest of the country, to other major cities like kiktwit and Lubumbashi.”
Transportation analysts say this is good news for millions of Congolese residents who have suffered decades of conflict and neglect that virtually destroyed the nation’s infrastructure.
“A new mode of transport will brighten up the city, especially with the new buses, which are modern and luxurious. I have noticed that people are really happy about these new buses.”
“The new buses are just like a drop of water in the sea. I have been standing here for almost 30 minutes and i noticed that in those 30 minutes i have spent at the bus stop, only three new buses have passed by. Open your eyes, look at this road, you will see that nothing has changed, the challenges remain the same. I think that the government needs to make an effort and order new buses.”
The DRC has some of the world’s largest copper and cobalt reserves. And rich deposits of coltan, tin and diamonds is expected to grow by eight-percent this year, brightening the nation’s outlook. Investors have been deterred by poor infrastructure and institutions ravaged by decades of mismanagement and war. But the government maintains that it is striving to strengthen economic governance and development, by improving the country’s roads and transport infrastructure.
To ensure the smooth transition of the new buses into service, the government implemented a new policy.
“We don’t want to completely phase out the “207” buses. What we want to do, which the government has also understood is to have in place an investment program, like the one that was set up in Dakar, Senegal that would go towards renovating public transport. Meaning a slow phasing out of these vehicles, which are rejects from Europe, and replace them with vehicles that support the needs of a city like this?”
The government-run company says it hopes to have a total of 500 new buses online by 2014– but critics say those numbers are unlikely to be reached because of corruption and mis-management by the government regulated industry.