Kombis need more parking space

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Phillip Chidavaenzi
It is early in the morning and downtown Harare is coming alive.
Hundreds of people are pouring out of commuter omnibuses and rushing along Rezende Street South to their various workplaces.
Along the same street, a group of boisterous touts are jeering at the municipal police preparing to tow away a commuter omnibus that had dropped off passengers at an undesignated spot.
In gangster-movie style, other commuter omnibuses come to a halt, quickly drop off passengers and speed away before the officers can pounce on them.
Pedestrians crossing the road scurry for safety.
Such scenarios have become the order of the day in the city centre.
Over the years, Harare has launched several “operations” in attempts to rein in the culprits, but the municipality’s efforts have hit a brick wall.
Way back when, Harare used to be an epitome of cleanliness and order.
City spokesperson Leslie Gwindi accused commuter omnibus drivers of indiscipline, saying they were disregarding designated pick-up points.
“Commuter omnibus operators are the major culprits, and it’s just a question of behaviour problems,” Gwindi said.
“Walking in town is now scary,” said Nothemba Ncube of Vainona.
“I was nearly run over by a kombi as I was trying to cross the road and I had to run to safety.”
Driving in the city centre requires one to be fully alert, concurred Vimbai Hara of Waterfalls.
“A kombi can just appear from nowhere, and when you try to avoid it, you’re most likely to bump into another car coming from the opposite direction. It’s chaotic,” she said.
Gabriel Muchena of Malborough said it was imperative for the city authorities to set up proper infrastructure such as a new terminus to accommodate commuter omnibuses flooding the roads.
He said some of the places where commuter omnibus drivers ranked did not have proper infrastructure such as shelters and ablution facilities.
Terrence Mashoko of Glen View said it was imperative for the city fathers to tighten the implementation of city by-laws.
He felt the unruly road culture prevalent among commuter omnibus crews could only be dealt with through a well-thought-out strategy.
“There have been so many operations, but the problem remains. Perhaps they should increase the fines,” he said.
Gwindi, however, said the fines for redeeming towed vehicles were punitive enough to discourage would-be offenders.
Offenders pay $130 to reclaim their vehicles.
According to the minutes of a council meeting held on June 17, the finance and development committee “impressed upon the Public Safety director to continuously supervise staff with a view to ensure illegal parking of vehicles in the central business district was minimised”.
A commuter omnibus driver who identified himself only as Farai said urban transport business was now a cut-throat industry where competition was stiff and their employers set targets which could only be met through unconventional means.
“There are designated pick-up points and parking places, but the kombis are too many and this forces us to pick up passengers at undesignated places,” he said.
Drivers said some roads in the city had literally been reduced to no-go areas because of the prevailing chaos.
These areas include Albion and Nehanda streets, near OK Supermarket, George Silundika and Julius Nyerere Way, near Central Police Station.
Observers, however, argued that it was imperative for council to appreciate that the number of commuter omnibuses on the road has significantly increased over the years. This means council needs to make more space available to accommodate the number of public transport vehicles.
Gwindi said: “The operation will intensify until they conform to our requirements. We will be working on our statutory obligation and will only rest after there is peace in the city centre.”
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 number of commuters have led to congestion.
“Just look at the situation here,” said another driver who declined to be identified.
“This place is just too small for all the kombis.”
The commuter omnibuses that littered the terminus were spilling over onto Chinhoyi Street, hindering other vehicles.