COMMUTER omnibus operators plying urban routes are on the verge of being pushed out of business as national public transport operator Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) has bounced back into its long-abandoned urban routes with its first fleet of coaches set to ply Harare, Norton and Chitungwiza routes from Monday.
Report by Everson Mushava
Zupco chief executive officer Brian Chawasarira yesterday said the State-owned bus company had acquired enough buses to service both rural and urban routes with additional coaches expected in September this year as part of its three-year turnaround strategy.
“We have the capacity to service both urban and long-distance routes,” Chawasarira said.
“We have plans to set a separate and complete urban transport service. At the moment, specific details of the routes and fares can be obtained at our Rezende Street offices.”
Zupco operations manager Kudakwashe Marayini said he could not confirm the fares off the cuff since he was out of office, but said the fares would be standard.
Zupco withdrew its fleet from urban routes at the turn of the millennium as its fleet size continued plummeting to unsustainable levels.
When the NewsDay crew visited the bus company’s Belvedere garage, there were over 200 new and reconditioned buses parked inside ready to take off.
Zupco’s rebound into urban routes is set to worsen the plight of kombi operators whose business was already under threat from incessant raids and penalties by police and council with crews playing hide-and-seek with law enforcement agents to stay afloat.
Aaron Tapfuma, chairman of the Zimbabwe National Commuters Operators’ Organisation, said although Zupco’s return was welcome, there were fears that it would cause unfair competition as Zupco buses would not be hounded by police.
“The kombi business employs more than 40 000 people countrywide, and, therefore, pushing them out of business flies in the face of the country’s empowerment and indigenisation policies,” Tapfuma said.
“This is a tricky issue. Zupco should be allowed to compete with the existing kombis without disempowering the latter; it would mean robbing thousands of families of their livelihoods.”
Kombi crews have been accused of negligent driving, overcharging, abusing commuters and causing congestion in cities.
George Mugiwa, a Harare commuter, said he welcomed the “long overdue” return of Zupco. He said the unavailability of competition was exposing the commuting public to rough treatment and overcharging. Kombi fares in most Harare routes were now pegged at $1, instead of 50 cents per trip.
“We are excited that Zupco is back. We will now enjoy lower fares and better treatment,” he said.
Government last year announced that it was planning to gradually phase out kombis and replace them with much bigger buses to reduce congestion in urban centres.
The latest development comes amid reports that 6 000 of the
10 000 kombis plying Harare routes were operating illegally and over 100 drivers were on the police wanted list.