Fong Kong – Threat or Opportunity

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Traffic congestion in Gaborone has reached crisis proportions. It takes well over an hour to get into and out of the City from places like Phakalane, Mogoditshane and surrounding towns and villages during peak hours. Traffic jams block all main arteries in and out of Gaborone forcing the Police to close the traffic lights and direct traffic by hand; without, one might note any protection from the petrol and diesel fumes.
Obviously, the dramatic increase in Fong Kong grey imported vehicles is a major reason behind the explosion of vehicles. Fong Kongs have been one of the great liberating influences enabling thousands of Batswana to own cars. However, instead of addressing the threat of growing traffic congestion by banning Fong Kongs, as suggested by a former Minister of Transport, there should be an opportunity to develop and implement a public transport strategy for the capital city before we all choke from noxious air pollution.
The absence of mass transit public transport serving Gaborone and the surrounding towns and villages is fast becoming not only an environmental cost, but also an increasing economic drain as millions of people hours are spent sitting in traffic jams.
President Masisi was recently pictured on a high-speed train during his visit to China. We hope that this is not just going to be a photo opportunity, but he sees the need for fast, efficient public transport serving Gaborone as a high priority.
The construction of the Gautrain in Johannesburg may have cost billions, but it has linked Pretoria and Johannesburg, and joins the 50-year-old Metro system, and public bus routes travelling on dedicated bus lanes as part of a long-term mass transit strategy.
A two-pronged approach is needed. Firstly, Government should immediately carry out feasibility studies for light railways, tram or trolley routes between the city centre, the various business and shopping centres, and to places like Phakalane, Ramotswa, Molepolole and Mochudi. The road reserves along the A1 and other major highways are wide enough to build a system of high-speed mono-rail trains, while tram or trolley schemes could be used to move between commercial and industrial centres like the CBD, Airport Junction and Game City.
Cities in Latin America and Germany have started using cable cars – like the one which goes up Table Mountain in Cape Town – for urban mass transit. This 21st century option could be attractive as construction costs and footprint are significantly lower than mono-rails; and could provide feeder routes into the city.
Secondly, driving in Botswana, and in Gaborone particular, must become more expensive to encourage people to use public transport to get to and from work. Cities like London, Singapore, Dubai and Bangkok levy congestion charges on vehicles entering their city centres, using technology to track and monitor vehicles and the payment of road charges.
Also, we must be the only capital city that does not charge for parking; not only are our roads clogged with parked vehicles, but they are also taking over the pavements. When will the City Council start charging for parking in Gaborone? And when will the city get high rise parking garages which can take hundreds of cars off the streets? The vacant land next to the National Library could easily house a multi-story car park; and the wasted land by Poso House could become a multi-story parking garage for the Government enclave; with parking rights built into the pay of civil servants.
Government and the City Council must address the long-term future of traffic in the Capital and do much more to improve the driving experience in Gaborone than putting Zebras on the traffic circles.