Maputo’s new transport system drives social, economic and environmental change

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In recent years you would have struggled to get on an officially registered bus in many parts of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. But soon the isolated inhabitants of its many neighborhoods in need of transport will be able to take advantage of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

“We are witnessing one of the most exciting times in the history of transport,” says Fatima Arroyo Arroyo, Senior Urban Transport Specialist at the World Bank and project manager.

The 1.7m city is home to clusters of towering office buildings, mirror-walled skyscrapers and a towering bronze statue of Samora Machel, the Mozambican freedom fighter and political leader who served as the first president of the country after its independence in 1975.

Yet this bustling metropolis, made up of the city of Maputo and its surrounding municipalities of Matola, Boane and Marracuene, presents a fundamental disconnect between its neighborhoods and its rapidly growing suburbs.

Dilapidated informal minibuses called chapsand open vans called My loves jam-packed with workers, and often exceeding capacity, ply the rutted roads and unpaved dirt roads, many without drainage or lighting, making accidents an epidemic.

Serious traffic situation

In July, an incident known as the Maluana tragedy left 32 people dead and dozens more injured when a bus traveling from Beira to Maputo attempted to overtake a truck carrying construction sand. A subsequent collision overturned the bus, instantly killing 31 passengers. Another died later in hospital.

Colonial-era roads such as the Estrada Nacional 1 (EN1) are built for small vehicles and have no lighting, which means drivers at night must navigate roads riddled with honeycombs. – hen in the dark.

Traffic enforcement is also plagued by corruption, with police accepting bribes for unworthy vehicles on the road without headlights, contributing to high rates of traffic accidents, says Adriano Nuvunga, professor of political science and civic activist in Maputo.

In September, the situation became so serious that a conference of local spiritual healers called on the government to let them tackle the “supernatural causes” of frequent traffic accidents on a stretch of the EN1 in Manhiça, 80 km north of Maputo.

“Since accidents don’t stop, the government will have to sit down with us and allow us to do the work,” said Fernando Mate, president of the Association of Traditional Doctors of Mozambique (Ametramo), referring to the rituals which form a mainstay of the religious beliefs of many Mozambicans.

Poor transportation breeds poverty

Around 98% of cars in the Maputo Metropolitan Area (MMA) are owned by upper-middle income households, and the poorest 40% of the population rely on public transport. But nearly half of residents do not live within a kilometer of formal or informal transport links, according to a World Bank report released in August.

The lack of an integrated public transport network in the city is a crucial element of social exclusion that creates urban poverty, limiting the potential of the local economy, population, businesses and markets. It represents a major development challenge, according to the World Bank.

“Lack of access to jobs and services is a major constraint to productivity; it hampers the city’s competitive potential and is an essential element of the social exclusion that underpins urban poverty.

Lack of access to employment opportunities is also holding back consumption in the city and thwarting private sector investment due to high transport costs and an overall disconnection from metropolitan markets.

The rate of infrastructure development has not kept pace with the rapid pace of urbanization and proliferating suburban development driven by a population that has nearly doubled over the past decade, Nuvunga says.

“From a structural point of view, the government has not been able to come up with convincing plans to solve the public transport crisis in Maputo,” he says.

Failed Solutions

A litany of solutions have been offered in that range between being a drain on public finances and being “really crazy,” Nuvunga says. “This translates into more debt for the state and no service for the people,” he explains.

The Futran megaproject born in 2021 envisaged a swarm of cable cars suspended on rails above the city. But construction on the $250 million project never began. Another plan for an automated driverless train transit system, the Automated Guideway Transit, has also failed to raise enough funds to get started.

In 2014, the Mozambican government drew up plans to establish a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. The program involved the introduction of new bus lanes and routes, articulated buses, depots around the metropolitan area, new stations, terminals and an electronic ticketing system.

The project was to be funded by the Brazilian government and built by the Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht.

But in October 2016, a corruption probe uncovered evidence that Odebrecht had paid $900,000 in bribes to the Mozambican government for the construction of an international airport in the northern town of Nacala which, suspiciously had almost no flights or passengers.

As a result, the Brazilian government suspended $4.7 billion in funding for 25 public works projects in Africa and Latin America, leaving the project to languish ever since.

Bus system gets green light

However, in August the Maputo Metropolitan Transport Agency and the municipalities of Maputo and Matola unveiled plans to relaunch the project, but this time with new financiers and bigger ambitions. The BRT project, which will be financed by a $250 million grant from the World Bank, aims to be more ambitious and adapt to the rapidly changing realities of the region.

Unlike the 2014 plan, which was limited to the city of Maputo, the new plans cover the low-income neighborhoods of Matola and Boane, and include the renovation of roads, the paving and waterproofing of streets, and the addition of drainage and lighting systems in a region historically vulnerable to climate change and flash flooding.

The BRT project aims to mainly integrate the sprawling network of chaps, which over the last decade have become the main form of public transport due to a lack of state-run alternatives. The chaps will be integrated into the new transport system by restructuring the fleets to operate as safe and efficient collectives, which will be provided with funding to allow them to maintain and modernize their vehicles.

For the first time, the region’s population, which is expected to reach 4 million in 2035, will have an integrated public transport system, according to the World Bank’s Arroyo.

“MMA is now at a crossroads to realize its potential as an engine of transformation in the country. We anticipate that this operation will ultimately help foster changes in the way the city develops from a congested, car-centric city to a green, resilient, people-centric city where walking and public transport are at the heart of the metropolitan vision. .”

Asked how the Bank will ensure the plans don’t fail like their predecessors, Arroyo says they are encouraged this time around by the government’s drive to reform the sector. Efforts such as supporting the private sector to renew the bus fleet and introducing a digital fare payment system using smart cards are planned.

“We recognize that results require continuous adaptation to be successful. The Bank’s support will build on these initial efforts by providing international experience and technical assistance to further enhance their impact.

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