Tapiwa Matizamhepo Features Writer
It is 4.30pm as Mr Muhambi locks the door to his office. It has been a long busy day, which began at 5am. Unfortunately, it is yet to be truly over as he still has to cap it all by securing affordable transport to his abode in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town 32km south of Harare.
He hobbles slowly along Innez Terrace towards the Charge Office terminus, his left hand carrying a plastic bag with a lunchbox whose contents he had “emptied” at lunchtime.
The right hand is clutching firmly to the crutch, which had become his “second leg” after the amputation of the right leg following a road traffic accident slightly over a year ago.
As he finally gets to the terminus, he cannot help, but notice long meandering queues of commuters waiting to board a Zupco bus back home. He contemplates joining the queue, but on second thoughts, reflecting on the accounts of the previous day, he hesitantly goes toward a kombi with a board inscribed “Zengeza”, and a tout shouting “$5 paZengeza” at the top of his voice.
The previous day, he had joined the queue like other commuters, but the Zengeza buses where nowhere in sight, until it started getting dark. And when one finally did come, a sudden commotion erupted, as people began pushing and shoving in a bid to get onto the bus. He had been pushed, lost his balance and fell to the ground with a thud and got bruised. Thanks to a man who helped him up, it was a close shave one that could hav led to the breaking of another bone.
Mr Muhambi’s account is a reflection of the everyday challenges commuters grapple with whenever they need to access affordable transport home, and for people living with disabilities, things cannot be any better for them.
While the Government should be commented for deploying Zupco buses to ferry commuters to and from different suburbs, who had been fleeced by kombis, the company needs to put in place measures to ensure a accessibility to all members of society, especially during peak hours.
Mr Muhambi is not alone in this predicament, as the service remains largely inaccessible to vulnerable groups such as wheelchair users, the visually impaired, and crutch users among thousands of other passengers who use assistive devices.
Oftentimes they are forced to resort to kombis, whose crews charge as much as 600 percent of the Zupco fare, further impacting on their already stretched wallets.
Tendai, a wheelchair user, who lives in St Mary’s, says he has not boarded a Zupco bus since their introduction, because the service is not friendly to his assistive device, adding that the last time he tried to use one there was no room for his wheelchair.
“Since the introduction of the Zupco buses, I have not used them because they are not accessible to people who are physically challenged. I use two crutches, so I cannot manoeuvre through the steps as they are too steep.
“Secondly, due to the high demand for the buses, there is bound to be commotion; and as a result I find it better to find alternative means of transport as I might get injured in the melee”, Tendai says.
Mr Madziwa of Zengeza 3, Chitungwiza, questions why the buses were not using the termini built for them, which he says would ensure smooth service and ward off pickpockets, who often had field days pouncing on the pockets of commuters for wallets and other valuables such as cellphones.
“The buses are not using the ranks, which were built for them and have remained occupied by kombis. This has led to commotion becoming the order of the day; and thieves have taken advantage of this.
“What will happen to us when the rainy season comes?” he queries.
Emmaculate Tole, who lives in Zengeza 5, says it is difficult getting access to the buses, particularly in the morning as they often come late. Waiting for them means she would be late for work every day.
“Where I live, we rarely get buses, especially in the morning. They will pick up passengers at ‘Pazvidhinha’ and ‘Pagomba’, and go to town via Chikwanha. They only get to our stations after 9am, so waiting for them means I will be late for work every day,” she says.
Her sentiments are echoed by Michael Mudinhe of Mabvuku, who points out to a few glitches involving buses plying the Mabvuku route.
“The Zupco buses are ferrying us well, but we have challenges on Sundays, when they are available. By 8pm the buses are already parked.
“Then we have another problem. Let’s say you are waiting for the buses at Foundation bus stop, the Zupco conductors do not allow us to board, saying they would pick us up on their way from Gazebo. However, when the buses return, they are already full,” he says.
“Besides that the service has helped us a lot, because kombis are charging us between $4 and $5, which is not sustainable considering our low salaries,” adds Michael.
Contacted for comment, Zupco chief executive officer Mr Everisto Madangwa said his organisation has been on a continuous evaluation exercise to ensure that they cater for the needs of commuters.
“We have buses that park at our Chitungwiza depot at the end of each day that service the routes. They start operating as early as 5am, and we have instructed our bus crews to pick up passengers from every station. So if there are any passengers being left behind, then it should be a matter of capacity, where the buses will be full.
“However, we are grateful that with Government assistance we will be able to provide buses that meet the demand. Recently we had his Excellency President Mnangagwa commissioning 47 more buses. This will ensure all are catered for,” said Mr Madangwa.
“As a customer-driven public transporter, we will look into the issues raised by the passengers, and they should not hesitate to contact us where there are anomalies, so that corrective action is taken,” he added.
Mr Madangwa said as Zupco, they had a policy that stipulates that people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups should be accorded preference whenever they seek their services.
“Our policy is that people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups such as the elderly, should be given preference. They should be able to access our services easily. You may also have noticed that the front seats in our buses are reserved for wheelchair users, and other passengers are expected to vacate them upon request,” he revealed.
He added that his organisation was engaging city authorities with a view to finding an amicable solution on the ranks.
“We are aware of the challenges our passengers will face when the rainy season comes. However, we are engaging city authorities so that they allocate a portion of the ranks to our buses.”
Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme confirmed the engagements between Zupco and the city authorities.
“Yes, we are working with Zupco. Specific loading points have been given to Zupco at all the existing CBD termini. Special attention has been given in coming up with these bays. One of the considerations was that the buses should not be delayed, hence, putting them inside the termini where kombis were operating would affect the turnaround of the few available buses.
“Regrettably, our infrastructure is in a state of disrepair. However, currently, council is working with Zupco to try and refurbish the shades at the termini, so that they are usable during the rainy season, “said Mr Chideme.
“Council has interested investors, who have shown interest in developing Speke Avenue and Simon Vengai Muzenda termini into state-of-the-art bus exchange points. These projects are still under consideration.”
“However, as City of Harare, our major mandate is to provide the relevant infrastructure and traffic control measures,” he added.