Grounded for the night

When I returned to Zambia in January, I was surprised to learn that public transport vehicles were barred from moving between 21 hours and 05 hours.

(Non-Zambians are likely to know these times as “9pm” and “5am.” Living in Zambia is great way for English-language speakers to learn the 24-hour clock.)

Since this is a) a public transport issue, and b) one that affects me personally, I am disappointed for letting the announcement of the law slip past me, even though I was out of the country.

For local transport (i.e., the buses circulating in Lusaka), the passage of the “Statutory Instrument 76 (SI 76)” might not be that big a deal. It has never crossed my mind to take a local bus after 21 hours, and I am not ambitious enough to take one before 05. For me, this law just removed my favourite travel option to reach Lusaka from my main base in Mongu, Western Province.

Until 2017, my choice for traveling to Lusaka was to take the bus that left at 22 hours, reaching Lusaka around 06. Not everything was great about that bus: often there was terrible music playing, it was sometimes cold enough that I was happy to be squeezed between two other passengers, and it was usually necessary to get off the bus when leaving Kafue Park – at about 03 hours. There was one time that we passengers got off the bus for the inspection and walked into some type of migrating herd of fire ants. I take it as evidence of the convenience of the night bus that I happily endured the displeasures above. Most importantly, I did not have to spend an entire business day annoyed that I could not spread my elbows far enough to use my laptop or doze more effectively.

In preparing this blog post, I did a bit of research and found a few reasons to like SI 76. First of all, there is good evidence of 2016 being a year of nocturnal carnage on Zambia’s highways. In that context, a law to stop people from dying on the road seems reasonable. Also, drivers seem to support the move, as it now means that their employers are no longer trying to get them behind the wheel day and night.

Nonetheless, it strikes me that the barring of buses at night is a blunt and inconsiderate instrument. In the communications that I have seen on the matter, it is as if no one who matters actually rode those buses. Comments about how this is “a strain on the economy” at least demonstrate that someone thought about the downsides, but it seems as if the only downsides that matter are those for mines and trucks (that are also affected by SI 76).

The above makes me wonder if the law would look different if the people who made it were actually affected by it. Let’s consider these possibilities:

  1. The number of Zambian lawmakers who ride public buses when traveling, and
  2. How it would further increase public safety if all non-emergency vehicles were grounded at night.

That’s right you Parliamentarians, I am proposing that the ban that inhibits me from traveling be extended to you. With that possibility, do you still think that SI 76 is the right way to solve the problem at-hand?

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