Turning Malawi’s bus stations into economic drivers

 Turning Malawi’s bus stations into economic drivers

Turning Malawi’s bus stations into economic drivers.

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The entry of government’s Local Development Fund (LDF) into the transport sector is a complimentary effort that will enable people access the most productive areas of the economy and facilitates easy access and sharing of knowledge and skills. 

Aimed at stimulating local economic growth and reduce rural poverty, the LDF has been constructing bus stations and terminals to enable people travel to different places at the same time to make accessible products and services available at agricultural hotspots such as Jenda, Ntcheu and Malomo as well as at Monkey Bay, one of the country’s internationally known tourist attraction points.

These transport infrastructures, have also seen the LDF creating a valued cultural environment that is supporting a range of sporting events, educational activities, technological advancements and is indirectly making rural areas attractive as visitors seize the opportunity to sample and appreciate local culture through heritage sites, artworks, food, music and dance.

The development comes at a right time when people have argued that the country’s economic growth over the years has not translated into substantial improvements in infrastructure development that would subsequently advance lives of Malawians.

While the transport sector in Malawi has sufficiently been able to carry goods and passengers by road, rail, lake and air, the provision of safe, comfortable, clean and convenient ports, stations and terminals has largely lagged behind and lacked the required attention.

Malawi has two international airports and a number of airstrips across the country. Its train service, serving the central and southern regions, has stations in the districts it passes. On the lake, the country has six ports dotted across the 580 km stretch of the lake, including one on Likoma Island.

The road transport, especially bus use, is the most extensive and the most used with numerous stations and terminals spread across the nation where both public and private transport stop to pick up and drop off passengers and goods.

A simple look to understand how much the use of bus services contribute to the national economy shows that bus travel is related to income levels though other people of higher income levels may at one time or another, for various reasons, also use the bus. As such, the majority of Malawians use buses for travels to to/from work, business, shopping and leisure trips.

Generally, public transport is frequently used by full and part time employees who have not broken into the middle class ceiling, informal workers, small and medium entrepreneurs, tourists such as backpackers, students and some of the unemployed.

Under the LDF, the construction of the various transport infrastructure is done through the Local Economic Development (LED) project and the Urban Window component which are co-financed by the Malawi government and its development partners, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the German Development Bank (KfW) respectively

“A bus station or terminal plays a role of both goods and passenger interchange between those destined for rural areas and those for the urban areas,” says Ina Thombodzi of LDF. She points out that bus transport are a vital element for sustained economic growth.

At Monkey Bay, Jenda and Malomo Rural Growth Centres, the LDF has, under the LED project, constructed bus stations and markets next to each other to facilitate immediate exchange of goods and services between distant traders and to efficiently create rural-urban linkages.

The newly LDF constructed Ntcheu district bus station, under the Urban Window, flanks an existing market.

Thombodzi says the bus stations and markets are provided, apart from facilitating travel, as a source of council revenue through departure or entry fees and also through fees charged on market activities.

The Director of Public Works at Ntcheu District Council says the construction of the station has seen a 100 per cent increase in revenue for the council.

All the bus stations and markets have shelters, toilets, bathrooms, kiosks, waste collection points as well as, like in Monkey Bay, bicycle parking lots.

Masozi Mhango, a commuter says, transport, as a critical element in the promotion of domestic and international tourism, can be an attraction in its own right, if properly managed.

“Through road transport holidaymakers, business travelers and other categories of travelers can experience a variety of sceneries and destinations,” she says advising councils to provide proper route information and bus timetable at the stations and terminals.

“The best way to deal with bus touts or call boys, who have become a threat to the safety of passengers, is to provide information with which travelers can easily identify which bus to ride in order to reach their destination,” she further advises adding that the council should also assign more security to secure the bus stations and terminals.

However, drawing from lessons of past bus station operations, it is important to realize that bus stations play a vital role in providing better services to the passenger, and as such there is need for councils to seriously consider introducing bus station management as an independent discipline in the field of traffic management for their members of staff operating these stations. 

Charles Mkula

Charles Mkula has over 15 years of working as a Malawian newsroom news reporter and editor as well as a freelance journalist for a number of international news outlets, Charles Mkula has worked as a Public Relations Officer for a Malawi/Germany urban development project. He co-founded Hyphen Media Institute, a platform for sharing information generated from policy debate and advocacy activities. Charles likes reading, writing, traveling, exercises, making friends, listening to music, watching TV, documentaries and cartoons.

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