COMMUTER omnibus operators in most of the country’s urban centres have cried foul over the introduction of an urban mass transportation system and heavy presence of military personnel brought in by government yesterday to rein in operators who had hiked fares.
BY VANESSA GONYE/FARAI MATIASHE
The introduction of buses by government to complement the existing transport system came as a relief to the general public, which had endured steep fares charged by private kombi operators that were beyond the reach of many.
But for kombi drivers, the move by government has created a hostile business environment, as they have been forced to reduce their fares in a bid to compete with the new system.
“We have seen military personnel, fully armed, and moving around in the buses. Their presence is not really okay, as they are seemingly intimidating us.
They are interrupting our procedures, harassing us. The situation is just tense. We are operating in fear as anything can just happen if we do not comply,” a Harare kombi driver who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity said.
Tichaona Chitete, a kombi driver plying the Glen Norah-town route, said they might be driven out of business.
“We are likely to stop operating starting from tomorrow. Today, we are experimenting. We do not know what tomorrow holds for us,” he said.
Chitete said the government did not consider the economic dynamics affecting their operations.
“If we want to buy spare parts these days, we are supposed to pay in United States dollars. For instance, a tyre is going for US$85, a rise from $115 in bond notes. Hence, considering we have been forced to charge a $1 to ferry people, we will not remain afloat in the business,” he said.
Chitete said the President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led government was creating another problem by increasing the number of unemployed youths.
Another driver, who declined to be named, said government was expecting them to slash fares, but diesel and other operational costs were still too high.
“Diesel is going for $3,11 a litre meaning for us to fill a full tank, it is something around $220, which means charging a $1 will not reach anywhere near there. Our reason for hiking kombi fares is because of diesel. If the government had done to us what it has done to those buses, we would have also reduced the fares,” he said.
Urban Commuter Operators of Zimbabwe president Simbarashe Ngarande said the move by government to bring in the mass transportation system was not a bad idea, though some issues needed to be considered to enable them to bring efficient service to commuters.
“We are having challenges as public service providers. It is not only about fuel, but the effects of the three-tier pricing system are weighing heavily on us, as we need to do more for our vehicles to be in good condition to enable us to do our business with efficiency and in a safe way,” he said.
“We welcome the competition brought in by the government. We will surely learn a lot. It is actually an eye opener, but our main worry is that, unlike the buses, we do not have reserves for fuel. We have to scout around for the best deal so that we remain in
Buses from private operators, including Inter Africa and CAG, under the flagship of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco), were ferrying people to and from suburbs in Harare and surrounding towns yesterday at fares ranging between $1 and $2.
However, a survey by NewsDay revealed that some routes were yet to be allocated buses, an issue that Zupco acting chief operating officer Everisto
Madangwa said they were working on.
“We are building capacity and given that we have started today (yesterday), we are aware of that and are making plans to cater for those routes as well as spreading to other parts of the country, where the transportation system has not reached yet,” he said.