Photo essay: Meeting the mobility needs of Dar es Salaam—an almost megacity

WhereIsMyTransport
6 min readDec 12, 2022

You would be forgiven for thinking that Dar es Salaam was Tanzania’s capital. In fact, Dodoma has been the country’s capital since 1974, when power was transferred from Dar es Salaam in the highlands of Tanzania. That didn’t slow Dar es Salaam down though — it ranks as Africa’s fifth largest city — and the world’s second fastest growing city. It’s expected to have a population of 13.4 million by 2035. As Dar es Salaam whirls towards megacity status, the city is at a turning point — in urban development, infrastructure, and transport.

Ever since the early 2000s, there’s been significant growth in business, finance, construction, and infrastructure, which has made Dar es Salaam more prominent both regionally and internationally. It’s divided into five sprawling districts, with Kinondoni the most populated, housing half of the city’s population. The beachfront suburb of Kigamboni is home to an economically diverse population, and is far more residential than the rest of the city. In between, Temeke is the industrial heart of Dar es Salaam, Ilala is where all of the government offices and ministries are — and is the business district, and Ubungo serves as a transportation link, to the south of Kinondoni.

Dar es Salaam’s prolific growth has impacted the city’s infrastructure, and how people get around. It’s expected that the city’s DART (BRT — Bus Rapid Transit) system will be expanded to meet growing demand, and investments in commuter rail lines have been significant over recent years, though overcrowding is still common. Road infrastructure is improving, as urban planners realise the need to create more direct routes to certain parts of the city. Still, Dar es Salaam is struggling to keep up with its growth. Traffic congestion is one of the main problems faced in the city, and political convoys are frequent, causing stand-still traffic jams.

Read: Why Dar es Salaam? Using data to reduce congestion in Africa’s third fastest growing city

The weather also plays a role in public transport use. With a tropical climate, there are two rainy seasons in the year, with rainfall averaging 1,100 mm annually. Rain comes hard and fast, and although drivers are used to this (it’s business as usual), floods can make some roads impassable, and journey times are generally longer. There’s also more overcrowding, as people board daladalas (minibuses) and the BRT to escape the rain, and some buses leak during heavy rainfall. It’s also common for the BRT terminal to flood. Sometimes, the flooding is extreme, destroying roads, bridges, and dwellings, and causing many deaths.

Daladala hub in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Daladala hub in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Public transport use is also hampered by safety concerns. Pickpocketing and theft are sometimes problems on crowded daladalas and around the bigger transport hubs. Sometimes, daladala drivers are profane, hungover, or drive recklessly. Evidence suggests a high prevalence of gender-based violence, with one 2019 survey showing that 59% of female commuters in Dar es Salaam had experienced some form of gender-based violence while travelling within the previous six months.

Commuting in Dar es Salaam

Only 9% of Tanzania’s urban households are car owners, meaning that most people opt for public transport to get around. The average commuting time on public transport in Dar es Salaam is 120 minutes. That means four hours a day spent getting from home to work, and work to home. One 2018 BRT estimate suggested that almost half (43%) of commuters used public transport in the city. Daladalas are the most common form of transport in the city, with around 5,200 in operation, most of them privately owned — although there is one bus company (UDA) that owns a small number of buses. It’s said that their name comes from “dala” for dollar, which was the bus fare in the 1970s and 1980s, when the minibuses started operating. They may run along fixed routes but stop anywhere to allow passengers to board or alight. Daladalas are renowned for being overcrowded and chaotic, but they’re cheap and the most popular way to get around.

Read: Commuter insights: Bajajs in Dar es Salaam

Daladalas driving through Dar es Salaam
A busy street in Dar es Salaam, with passengers boarding a daladala.
An overcrowded daladala

There are always two staff — the driver and the collector. The collector deals with fares and announces drop-off locations — it pays to listen to them as the routes change frequently! Fares depend on the distance travelled but range from 400/= TZS to 750/= TZS, and payment is always in cash.

Passengers seated inside a daladala

The BRT, Bus Rapid Transit system, began operation in 2016, funded by the African Development Bank, World Bank, and the Tanzanian government. It costs 650/=TZS to use, or 200/=TZS for students. There are dedicated lanes for the BRT buses, and enclosed stations. The aim was to reduce commuter travel times and general congestion in the city. While 70% of the population had used the BRT at least once, only 3% used it every day. It’s certainly improved accessibility for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, school kids, or people with disabilities, but the BRT experiences general low reach and is often overcrowded, with people waiting for a long time to board the bus during peak hours. Flooding is also a major challenge for the BRT network.

BRT station entrance in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The Kigamboni ferry, a government-owned gulf ferry, connects the Kigamboni beach district to the city’s business district. One of the reasons Kigamboni has remained less developed is because of the lack of infrastructure: the ferry is the only way to reach the residential neighbourhood on public transport. Fares cost 200/=TZS for commuters, making it one of the cheapest public transport options available.

Bodabodas are passenger motorcycles and operate in areas that are not serviced by daladalas. They’re a fast way of getting from A to B, able to cut through traffic and take shortcuts, but there are some risks involved, from safety concerns to worries about reckless driving. And they’re more expensive than daladalas, with fares starting at 1,000/=TZS in rural areas and 2,000/=TZS in suburban areas. Nonetheless, some passengers build up good relationships with “their” bodaboda drivers, and some hire these drivers to take their children to school, paying them on a monthly basis.

Bajajs are an alternative to bodabodas and daladalas– rickshaws that are convenient for travelling down narrow streets, They’re considered safer and more sophisticated than a bodaboda, and are useful when transporting supermarket goods or heavy luggage. Again, some people pay drivers to take their children to school in a bajaj too. Fares vary greatly, starting around 3,000/=TZS in suburban areas and can go up to 20,000/=TZS in the city.

A modified bajaj driving through flooded streets in Dar es Salaam

Taxis are similarly pricey, starting from 10,000/=TZS (and for tourists, often more). There are private taxi companies such as Citycab, Volo, and Rova, but Uber and Bolt are in operation too.

There is a huge range of public transport options available in Dar es Salaam, and most people prefer some form of public transport, however overcrowded it might be, to walking. There are few pavements and pedestrian crossings in Dar es Salaam, meaning you’re constantly zigzagging between traffic. And the weather doesn’t make for a pleasant stroll either — it’s oppressively hot or raining buckets. While public transport options are varied and fare options cover most price points, Dar es Salaam’s general infrastructure needs development. It’s no mean feat keeping up with a city that is expected to reach megacity status by 2030, but data and research is helping to understand where the city needs infrastructure the most.

You may also be interested in:

Understanding the mobility ground truth in Dar es Salaam

Understanding the mobility ground truth in Lima

Understanding the mobility ground truth in Bangkok

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WhereIsMyTransport

Stories about data, mobility, and the Majority World from the WhereIsMyTransport team.