Of cops, kombis and decongestion

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The fruits of the recent move by the municipality in Harare to curb the menace posed by commuter omnibus operators in the heart of the city, appears to have, as many people had feared, short-lived.
While some people had welcomed it as a long awaited panacea to the ‘unruly road culture’ practised by commuter omnibus crews, others felt the campaign needed to be well thought-out otherwise it would end up as yet another colossal failure.
At the time, police spokesperson, Superintendent Andrew Phiri, was on record saying the joint-operation – code-named ‘Operation 100% CBD Decongestion’ – was a step towards restoration of order in the CBD where commuter omnibuses had become a nuisance.
Unlicensed drivers were arrested and unroadworthy vehicles impounded, but less than two weeks later, there’s nothing to show for the efforts of the city fathers. Drivers said some roads in the CBD remain unpassable, and had literally been reduced into no-go areas because of the chaos wrought by the commuter omnibus operators who paid no regard to other road users.
These areas include Albion and Nehanda streets, close to OK Supermarket, George Silundika and Julius Nyerere way, near the Charge Office terminus.
Freedom Masocha, a Harare resident, said he had hoped the operation – code-named ‘Operation 100% CBD Decongestion’ would indeed decongest the CDB but much to his despair, it was only for a short spell.
He accused the authorities of poor planning, which he said resulted in operations that only served to gulp down resources thereby ended up being “expensive yet without tangible results on the ground.”
While the police had come out in full force, all guns blazing, during the three-day operation, they have but disappeared from the roads.
Thomas Ndlovu of Chitungwiza accused the police of being part and parcel of the problem as they often negated their duties, being more concerned with getting money form commuter omnibus crews than ensuring the safety of passengers.
“Everyday in the morning, these guys (commuter omnibus crews) pay the police $3 at roadblocks and sometimes you don’t even see the police officers checking whether or not the vehicle is supposed to be on the road,” he fumed.
He said the fact that no commuter omnibuses were impounded, as long as the commuter omnibus crews paid “the mandatory $3” when there was no specific operation targeted at them raised serious questions.
Walking in the CBD now required one to be fully alert, said Sekai Harahwa of Waterfalls.
“A kombi can just appear from nowhere, and when you try to escape, you’re most likely to run into another one coming from the opposite direction. It’s chaotic,” she said, adding that she had thought this was what the operation was intended to deal with.
Morris Chadenga of Malborough said it was imperative for the city authorities to set up the proper infrastructure such as new termini that would accommodate the commuter omnibuses flooding the roads.
He said some of the places where commuter omnibus operators were asked to rank did not have proper infrastructure such as sheds and ablution facilities.
“I wonder what parameters the council and police use to measure the success of their operations.
“It seems like all they are happy about is that they have carried out the operation,” he said. Most of the spots at which the commuter omnibus crews are reportedly supposed to drop off and pick up passengers are way out of the city centre, where most of the people would be headed.
Others accused the authorities of poor planning, saying the campaign was a desperate, last-gasp attempt to bring a facelift into an otherwise chaotic CBD ahead of the 2010 World Cup finals which have just began in South Africa.
Over a long time, some commuter operators have invaded the city centre, congesting some roads and making it a nightmare for other drivers and ordinary people alike doing their business.
Harare’s spokesperson, Leslie Gwindi, had however, vowed that the council would leave no stone unturned in their efforts to rein in the errant commuter operators.
“The operation will intensify until they conform to our requirements. We will be working on our statutory obligation and will rest after there is peace in the city centre,” he was on record as saying.
But a look at the situation now shows that the operators have not conformed to the requirements. Although council initially identified Market Square, Fourth Street bus terminus, Copacabana and Charge Office as the major ranks where kombis should rank, the increase in the numbers of commuters have congested the terminus.