Senegal’s ‘car rapides’ to be phased out by 2018

CNN  — 

The bright hand-painted buses with “eyes” that have roamed the streets of Dakar for 40 years will soon be a thing of the past.

Referred to by locals as “car rapides,” meaning ‘fast car,’ they will be phased out by 2018 as the capital of Senegal upgrades its urban transportation network.

“The retreat of the car rapides became an imperative to modernize public transport in Dakar,” said Alioune Thiam, general director of Dakar’s Executive Council on Urban Transport (CETUD).

The current buses, he said, are too old and the new ones will improve safety, comfort, accessibility, while also being much more environmentally friendly.

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Part of history gone

The buses were originally made by French carmaker Renault and brought over for use in 1976. They’re often painted with slogans and images of Sufi holy men and animals and trees.

While some may mourn the end of these colorful, often crammed buses, for many they’re just not practical. Besides their fume-spewing ways, their safety is questionable and accidents happen regularly.

One tourist who recently visited Dakar said: “I was shocked how dangerous they were – the back doors swing open, there are men who hang off the back, often times casually hanging on almost in a cocky sort of way. I was shocked also how many people seem to be on the buses, crammed inside as well,” said London-based journalist Ginanne Brownell.

“I mentioned how shocked I was about this dangerous mode of transport to my translator. He laughed and acknowledged that it was pretty unsafe but that was part of the Senegalese modern landscape,” said Brownell.

During her visit, Brownell said there was an accident in Dakar where a bus had tipped over, killing over a dozen passengers. “My translator was a bit more stoic after that, saying ‘Yes, we really must get rid of these buses. They’re colorful and bright, with fun images and messages painted on them, but they are also very, very dangerous.’ ”

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Some locals have complained about the new buses, protesting about the fare increase, up from 25 cents to 35 cents.

The government said it will invest in training new drivers for the buses as the city’s population of 3 million continues to grow.

Some have also suggested that the new Indian and Chinese-made buses keep in the spirit of the car rapides, with local artists getting a chance to paint them in a similar colorful fashion. City officials said they’re not considering this option at the moment.

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