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How graphic design & technology can end taxi chaos in Zimbabwe

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This article first appeared on Taf Makura’s personal blog, tafmakura.co.zw.

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Boarding a Taxi or a public bus – while it might seem like a simple enough task elsewhere; In Zimbabwe It has lately become a very dangerous affair. There have been very recent reports of deaths, robberies and police kidnappings involving taxis. But before this article grabs the attention of the UN and the global sanctions machinery, these reports are very few and far between but by no means non-existent.

They point to a very disturbing trend of lawlessness that can boil over into unpredictable chaos. Already the Harare CBD has been taken over by mostly under-age juvenile taxi drivers who pretty much do as they please, including driving over curbs, reversing against one-way traffic, attempting to run over police officers and pick-pocketing the occasional passenger. To the ‘rescue’ is the local police force who have come on the scene like a bunch of cowboy-era vigilantly sheriff’s deputies who do equally as they please, smashing wind shields, ‘high-jacking’ taxis and clownishly running up and down the streets of central Harare – batons in the air – craving pubescent taxi-driver blood.

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The Problem – It’s all very hilarious now but dangerously unpredictable in the future. It’s also not simple to manage. In Zimbabwe like many other African countries, public transport is operated by a huge number of small individual business people who each own one or a small fleet of minibuses that they operate as public transport. Each ‘kombi/mchova’ changes crews (driver and conductor) regularly.

On the streets of Harare alone there are thousands of these vehicles. It is nearly impossible for any single police force to track down each and every one of these vehicles – let alone the crews that operate them – after a traffic violation or crime has been committed. Passengers also find it hard to remember a particular taxi that they may want to report. The reality is that a lot of unknown assailants end up free and “on the run” without even knowing it. To curb this, police officers have had to “apprehend” as many “culprits” on the spot as they can  before they try to get away – but, try to get away is what they do best, this of cause is when the hilarity ensues.

The solution – I couldn’t resist asking myself if there can’t be a more civil and less embarrassing solution to all this mess. After some thought, I think there is – graphic design and technology. By employing simple hand-held police cameras, an up-to-date and accessible digital vehicle registration database, officially employed and registered kombi crews and finally, a bit of graphic design. The most expensive of all these is the pocket police camera which can retail for as little as $160 a piece.

How it works – The next bit is quite simple, each taxi should have a unique and easily memorable alpha-numeric short registration number (ASReN) that ties it to a specific operator, the name of that operator, that operator’s address, that operator’s phone number and that vehicles authorized route(s). All this information is then permanently emblazoned on the taxi for all to easily see and recall. Each taxi should only be operated by a registered crew who are linked to that vehicle’s ASReN. Finally, all taxis will need uniform and clear markings. On each vehicle and crew’s I.D.s will be a matching QR code that the police can scan at random traffic stops to see that all the registration is in order and that the correct crew is operating the correct vehicle on the correct route.

Passengers can also scan a vehicle’s QR code and compare it against a publicly available database through a free app to see if the vehicle is compliant and registered as well as the safety record of its current driver. Passengers can send that QR code with the vehicles ASReN to a chosen contact so that they can be quickly identified in the event of a vehicle accident or reported crime that matches that vehicle.

The system can be even more sophisticated, some or all public vehicles can be outfitted with a GPS tracking device to ensure adherence to route laws, monitoring of transport activity as well as collecting data and computing trends for the Ministry of Transport, Traffic Safety Council, The City Council and the Police. When a vehicle changes operators, it should be completely re branded and emblazoned with the new operators short registration number (this will minimize pirate taxis)

Less chaos – Now back to the cameras and our super hero cops. Instead of risking life and limb, the police will simply need to be stationed (or partrol) the CBD and various routes. When they (or members of the public) observe a taxi breaking the law they simply take a video and picture evidence which they then book as an offence – in real-time- into the national police database.

During future traffic stops police officers simply scan a vehicle’s QR code, if there is a pending arrest warrant or report against the crew or vehicle operator, the police will safely effect an arrest in a respectable and professional manner with the correct resources. If it’s a minor offense the cost will be carried forward to the owners’ operator fees. A notification of the offence is sent to the owner and video evidence, time and date of offence, docket number and criminal law procedure made available should the operator or crew choose to dispute this in court.

Here is an intresting article on newsday.co.zw that peers into the culture of Kombi crews in Hararehere.

I’d love to hear what you think, or if you have a better way we can refine this idea. I will be happy to update the article or feature your alternative solution on this blog.

You might also be interested in this set of liveries that I designed for the Zimbabwe Republic Police here.


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29 thoughts on “How graphic design & technology can end taxi chaos in Zimbabwe

  1. besides being an optimist, its a great idea. just that you will face the stiff resistance from Kombi drivers and owners who are making good money because of this chaos. you can never tell a hwindi to ignore “shura”, just because its off his route.

    1. Not to mention resistance from the Police if it results in them losing supplementary funds to their regular income…

  2. Its a good idea BUT .. Dude, the police are not really out to enforce any laws or make arrests, they are after ‘spot fines’ (get it) Eg, ALL ‘combis’ carry 18+1 passengers yet are only licensed for 15, but they still go through multiple roadblocks over and over again with their ‘overload’ The whole cat and mouse game is symptomatic of a failure of policy implementation – not the lack of it. The ‘number plates’ are meant to be used for identity purposes, and we already have the CVR database, but these are not being used for that purpose with the preferance for smashing windscreens and windows and such tactics selectively aimed at those who fail, refuse, or neglect to ‘pay’

  3. You might also be interested in this set of liveries that I designed for the Zimbabwe Republic Police here. – See more at: http://www.techzim.co.zw/2013/08/graphic-design-technology-can-end-taxi-chaos-zimbabwe/#sthash.0BPvoWji.dpuf

    You sure that’s not a copy paste of the JMPD (joburg metro police dept) branding?

    http://www.aartofacts.co.za/news/image.axd?picture=2012%2F10%2F20120828_s.jpg

    http://cdn.24.co.za/files/Cms/General/d/1715/328c3fdc65364301bb0c9654c589ae4e.jpg

    1. That’s not JMPD it’s SAPS, but I too noticed there’s more than a passing resemblance to SAPS livery.

  4. This is a brilliant idea!! However the problem with most ideas in Zimbabwe is that they die at idea stage. What have you started doing to make this a reality? have you done and tested a simulation of what you are talking about? Do you have a concise budget of how much it would cost the police, the kombi owners/employees and the general public to implement this idea? Who have you approached with this idea?

    p.s NOTHING is impossible so don’t be discouraged by “it cant be done” talk. Rather objectively look at the challenges you are most likely to face in implementing this idea and take them head on. I wish you or whoever is going to run with this all the success.

  5. each taxi should have a unique and easily memorable alpha-numeric short registration number (ASReN) that ties it to a specific operator, the name of that operator, that operator’s address, that operator’s phone number and that vehicles authorized route(s)

    What you are describing already exists. You might have seen it already, it’s called a “Number Plate”.

    1. I think the idea of a new number would allow new VID/Criminal and Accident checks, driver and conductor vetting, creation of an accessible public transport database and quantification of omnibuses versus routes. Simply, its a good data capture exercise.

  6. Good Idea, I think resistance or not being mentioned and the scepticism is from people who have zero experience of Kombi use, it will make travelling much easier if kombis are formalised and records are kept, for the passengers as well. However the human element is missing, the people involved in driving, the traffic policelooking for a bribe. that needs to be put into account

  7. Not happening in Zim. 1st, who owns the kombis? And would they want their kombis impounded? 2nd, the basics of policing are not even there on the ground. The police are not equipped properly to fight day to day crime. Go to any police station and you will see what i am talking about. 3rd, it will reveal too many things/issues about kombis/transport system and that will bring you back to point number 1.

    I believe ideas like this come to fruition by leveraging the basics in place.

  8. Come to think of it, we have been mannually doing this for cross border travel, especially by kombi, ie, get the driver details, take a snap of the number plate, just is case something happens along the way, you have some details

  9. I like that this idea capitalizes on already existing technology which is easily accessible. However, setting up the infrastructure required and training the police to make it work may be a challenge. It will involve multiple arms of government so where does one start? Is this just an opinion piece or a real project? Would be happy to work towards making this a reality, how can I get more information?

  10. I was once involved in a car-chase with a kombi. Police flagged me down, jumped in my car & ordered me to follow a kombi. Next thing I know, I’m driving alongside the Kombi and the police were pointing their guns at it threatening to shoot out the tyres, nevermind that the Kombi was full. This technology may avoid such instances from happening.

  11. how about doing away with the kombis, public service should be in the hands of well trained civil servants, proffesional drivers, lets not put make up on a pig. each town could have its own version of zupco with a well maintained fleet of vehicles , scheduled trips, marked bus stops. proper transport system kwete njake njake. WE DESERVE BETTER

  12. Now this is something long overdue. A number plate is not enough top identify such vehicles. Number Plates are easly interchangable. Some kombi crews are now robbing people because it has a higher profit margin for them than plying routes. I lost a laptop and a phone to a kombi crew of thiefs.

    Regulations should stipulate a kombi should have clear standard markings so you can see it from a distance. It should be emblazonesd with an identifying code as stated in article which whould be readable from a distance. GPS device should be a requirement if you want to get in the transport industry. No GPS means no Permit. And police should be able to see kombi movements at any time on an map application.
    The cost of these things and running costs of the system should be borne by the kombi owners. They make more than enough to cover the cost. hapana here ane maconnection nemapurisa vaite such a venture. Its profitable

  13. One of the best ideas I have heard in a long time. This could actually work. However, with the current crop of kombi operators, drivers and hwindis that we have, i fear this might also have a negative impact on the commuter. How? For this to work the operators have to be compliant. This is where the first bit of the problem. As it is, we already have laws that they should be adhering to but the operators are mostly not our favourite law abiding citizens. I have a feeling that many of them wont be abiding then too. This will force the police and city council to try and clamp down on the non compliant operators and crews (which is larger part of them) thereby starting running battles (Police + council vs. Operators+Crews vs. innocent commuter. We all know the dangers that this has brought in our city. Not only that, there is also a lack of honest business principles in the crews. If a slight change in weather can cause the fare to double, imagine what a clamp down by the police and councils would do to the commuter’s pocket. Non the less, the idea is still a brilliant one, and could see fruition if our govt had lasting alternatives to urban transport, …or if there were fewer operators with resources enough to supply the cities with transport (these would be easier to manage)

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