Kombis Joining Zupco Ideal, but Bottlenecks Must Go

The reopening of business in the formal sector has already put an intolerable strain on Zupco, the only permitted operator of public transport during the lockdown, with many workers queuing for hours or risking their health and safety by catching lifts in trucks, pick-up trucks and private vehicles.

Traffic has been building up rapidly during the lockdown, as more business sectors are permitted to reopen, and is now close to normal, with even fuel queues reappearing, as the rest of the formal sector reopens, simply because most cars are owned by those who work in the formal sector or are company cars.

This is fine for the upper echelons of reopened businesses, but does not really help the general workforce who rely on public transport, and it is a problem that needs to be addressed urgently if the economic and safety gains are not to be eroded.

Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo has suggested strongly that the best way for kombi owners to get back on the road is to join Zupco’s franchise.

This has always been a goal of those of us who want an efficient, but regulated public transport sector.

Kombis operating under the Zupco flag are well-maintained and generally the drivers obey traffic rules and conductors do not permit overloading.

Zupco’s rules for franchised buses and kombis are not onerous, but they are there and those running under the franchise have to follow them, bringing discipline to the system and earning the plaudits of commuters, who favour Zupco-branded buses and kombis not just for the fares, but also for the enforcement of rules.

But there are some implementation issues that need to be sorted out quickly if the excellent idea of extending the Zupco franchise is to work in a way that relieves the growing intolerable shortage of public transport.

For a start, Zupco must be able to process applications to join the franchised fleet rapidly.

We need whatever percentage of the kombi fleet that can meet the maintenance standards on the road quickly.

Secondly, owners of franchised buses and kombis complain that the subsidy payments they receive can take several months to process. This is a Government issue.

If subsidies are to work, then they must be paid on time.

If subsidies have to be reduced, or even eliminated, then new fare structures have to be calculated.

These are all possibilities, rather than desired action, but the financial viability of Zupco franchised services has to be maintained.

If those conditions can be met, and Zimbabwe is still too slow at implementing good policies, then moving to the position where Zupco basically oversees urban bus services, as well as operating its own buses, is very desirable.

With that sort of traffic Zupco should be able to restore the stationing of marshals at bus terminuses, giving two extra boons to the commuting public: the elimination of touts and having someone who can call Zupco’s operations room asking for more buses or kombis to be diverted to a particular route or terminus.

Everyone has been talking for decades about how wonderful the old HUOC and ZOC services worked before these companies were nationalised and united into Zupco.

But Zupco now has the opportunity to rebuild that service fast, and probably better.

Vision 2030 is the goal of the next decade, we can take the journey to upper middle income status in steps, starting with what we have and bringing in better regulation and efficiency as we march to the target.

The Covid-19 emergency has seen other areas of the informal sector coming under regulation.

Harare City Council has started demarcating bays at the Mupedzanhamo Market, something that should have been done 20 years ago, but as that market opens as the lockdown is lifted in phases, it will at long last be regulated and those selling from it finally given some security.

While we should not be relying on public health rules issued during a pandemic to regulate private commerce, there is nothing wrong to applying our minds and resources to ensuring that as these rules are relaxed there is something in place that is better than what was there before.

If it takes a serious emergency for everyone to start thinking hard and working together, instead of working at cross purposes, then we will win something from that emergency.

President Mnangagwa has made it clear that it cannot be business as usual, but perhaps we do not want business as usual.

We should be looking at how to make it business better than usual, generating new ideas and then, and this is the crunch point, implementing them efficiently and fast.

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