In Senegal, the arrival of electric buses aims to revolutionize public transport

To get around, Dakar residents already had the choice between the colorful Renault 1000s – the famous “fast coaches” –, the white vans nicknamed “Ndiaga Ndiaye”, the illegal and official taxis, the backfiring Tata buses and the Indonesian “cak cak” three-wheelers

In Senegal, the arrival of electric buses aims to revolutionize public transport

To get around, Dakar residents already had the choice between the colorful Renault 1000s – the famous “fast coaches” –, the white vans nicknamed “Ndiaga Ndiaye”, the illegal and official taxis, the backfiring Tata buses and the Indonesian “cak cak” three-wheelers. ". On Wednesday May 15, a new road behemoth almost twenty meters long, all electric, arrived on the main roads of the Senegalese capital: the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a fleet that turns its back on diesel – a first in Africa.

From the foot of the Great Mosque in the south to Guédiawaye in the north, a concrete dual carriageway was built especially for the BRT. A titanic project, which lasted four years, led to the evacuation of 3,606 households, according to the World Bank, and sparked its share of controversies, notably over embezzlement denounced by the National Office for the Fight against Fraud and Corruption ( Ofnac).

But the hassles, on this day of commissioning, are almost forgotten. “With Tata buses, we are tight. There, I was well settled and it took me ten minutes to come to Petersen [the terminus] from Liberté 1, much less time than with my usual minibus,” laughs Pauline, 46, despite the din of the exit gantry. Like her, most users say they are “proud” and “satisfied” to travel in these quiet and spacious buses. “Affordable and fast” too, specifies Fatou Gueye, her 400 CFA francs (0.61 euro) ticket in hand, which should allow her to divide the price of her daily journeys by five.

For the Franco-Senegalese company Dakar Mobilité, concessionaire of the line for fifteen years, BRT should ultimately make it possible to reduce passenger travel times by half. The company hopes to see 300,000 use its Chinese vehicles every day, at a rate of one bus every six minutes. “It’s the equivalent of the crowds of a metro,” compares Yves Wininger, its general director, taking the example of that of Bogota, which transports 2 million travelers daily.

But for the moment, the priority is to avoid the incident. On Wednesday, one of the buses brushed against a woman in the Grand Yoff district. Further on, a vehicle was stopped for around ten minutes, its passengers on board. And in Sacré-Cœur, a police officer assigned to traffic had the sixteen traffic lights disconnected at the intersection with the BRT, because “they work too well and the lights have created a huge traffic jam on the secondary roads,” explained -he.

No bridge for pedestrians

By making one of the major axes of the capital more fluid, the BRT pushes other vehicles onto secondary roads, saturated daily by 7 million motorized vehicles (cars, motorcycles, buses) according to the authorities. To decongest them, Malick Ndiaye, the Minister of Transport, announced by the end of May “a project worth more than 230 billion CFA francs [around 350 million euros] with fourteen lines of more than 1,000 gas buses [which will be ] feeder buses to allow users to join the BRT and go to the city”. In the meantime, “it will take time for everyone to find their feet,” said an anti-fraud agent struggling with a gantry refusing to let passengers out.

Because everything is not perfect, far from it. The more than eighteen kilometers of BRT traffic are not entirely secured by guardrails. And despite the 650 million euros invested, no footbridge has yet been designed for pedestrians. “We have increased awareness campaigns, but it will take repression to save lives,” underlines Aymeric Durandy, director of operations at Dakar Mobilité. A police company was specially created to secure the BRT.

With the regional express train (TER), put into service in 2021 between Dakar and Diamniadio (around thirty kilometers), the BRT today and, tomorrow, gas buses, the Senegalese capital confirms its shift towards more efficient transport. clean, while air pollution is responsible for the death of “7% of inhabitants”, according to an official 2022 study.

“The BRT project was a major challenge. During these years of work, road traffic was practically never cut even though we operate on one of the densest corridors in Dakar,” recalls Franck Taillandier, transport specialist at the World Bank, the main donor. of the BRT with 370 million dollars (340 million euros). Proparco, a subsidiary of the French Development Agency (AFD), also participated in the project, to the tune of 85 million euros.

Now, in brand new Dakar Mobilité premises, hundreds of young recruits are working hard to make “their” bus a success. They are graduates in international relations, hospitality or cultural mediation, crane operators or taxi drivers who have become controllers, regulatory agents or bus drivers… “These new professions did not exist in Senegal,” explains Aymeric Durandy. In France, you recruit skills, here we went looking for profiles. »

Former executive in a large hotel in Saly, 70 km south of Dakar, Seynabou Gueye, the deputy head of the centralized command post, agrees: “We knew nothing about transport. For us, it's a new world. »