By Tafara Shumba
The modernisation of the mass public transport system in Zimbabwe through the introduction of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) buses will restore sanity and ameliorate the challenges commuters have been subjected to.
The conventional buses charge commuters just a dollar for a single trip in Harare and $1,50 and $2 for a single trip to Chitungwiza and Norton respectively. The commuter omnibuses have until yesterday been charging $2, $3 and $4 for the respective trips. The disparity in fares has already started spelling doom to the commuter omnibus operators.
Before re-introduction of the ZUPCO buses, Government had availed an opportunity for commuter omnibus operators to do business in an environment devoid of State players. The sector grew significantly after Government withdrew ZUPCO from plying urban routes which it had dominated for a long time.
The first port of call for anybody who got a windfall was a kombi business. Unfortunately, the kombi operators failed to regulate themselves to instil professionalism in the sector. As a result, the kombi business has become the most unruly sector in the country.
The law of the jungle has been their modus operandi. They arbitrarily hiked fares, in recent days doing so twice a week.
The stakeholders in the sector recently had a meeting with Government to agree on reasonable fares. It took a listening Government to indulge to the operators’ proposed fares which are still on a high side. With the recent fare regime, a trip in Harare was covered by one commuter, the rest was profit. Despite the agreed fares, most of the kombis still charged more.
The commuter omnibus operators will have themselves to blame. Their chaotic operations and knack for profiteering will push them out of business. They have refused to play by the rules of the game. With more ZUPCO buses being promised to flood Harare and other urban areas, the commuter omnibus operators will have to shape up or ship out. Those with business dexterity have started adjusting, with some plying Chitungwiza route climbing down from $3 to the gazetted $2.
Still with ZUPCO charging $1,50 for the same trip, a 50c difference is too much for a vendor and the general workforce whose largest chunk of their earnings goes to transport expenditure.
As economists always urge Government to let market forces determine prices and exchange rates, indeed the forces will make everything fall in place in the urban transport system.
Besides low fares, ZUPCO has an added advantage of accepting all the modes of payment. Unlike in the past when travelling in a kombi was like a ride in hell, it is going to be spectacular riding in a ZUPCO bus with a professional crew.
The days when elderly citizens could be subjected to aggravation by the boorish kombi crews will soon be gone. Gone will be the common sights of commuter omnibus driving against the traffic on one way streets. Gone will be the days when every part of the road is a drop off and pick up point.
Gone will be the days when schoolchildren are run over while walking on pavements. Gone will be the days when the law enforcement agents play cat and mouse with the kombi crews.
The commuter omnibus operators allowed themselves to be used as willing tools in a plot to antagonise the Government. The workforce did not wittingly heed the recent so-called stay away. They did not go to work because there was no transport to ferry them after the commuter omnibus operators connived with those who have a political agenda to achieve.
The economy lost millions of dollars because of the forced stay-away which the commuter omnibus operators were part of. Government cannot continue to leave such an important sector in the hands of unscrupulous people.
Government should gradually phase-out kombis from the urban public transport system. This can be done through discontinuing, henceforth, the issuing of new operating permits. As time goes, the existing kombis will be ageing and moved out of the roads. During this time, Government will be procuring more buses to replace these kombis.
There should also be a paradigm shift in the management of ZUPCO. It is not a secret that successive management has been running down the parastatal. It must not be business as usual at ZUPCO.