THE government has been urged to rope in private transport operators to bring relief to commuters who had to queue for hours in all the major cities and towns early morning and end of day yesterday as the country entered level two of the national lockdown.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU/BLESSED MHLANGA
Many were left stranded on the roadside for hours and reported to work late owing to a transport shortages after President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who last Friday extended the COVID-19 lockdown period by a further two weeks, but reopened industry and commerce, maintained that commuter omnibuses and taxis remain off the road.
Only the State-managed Zupco buses were allowed back on the road, but they could not cope with demand owing to stringent conditions imposed on operators who now ferry just half their sitting capacity to ensure social distancing is observed on board.
Statutory Instrument (SI) 99 2020 introduced stringent conditions of operations for public transporters, forcing many off the road because they would not make profits.
“Every vehicle used by the transport service must be disinfected against COVID-19 by or at the direction of an enforcement officer at least twice daily; and (b) every individual must be temperature-tested and have his or her hands sanitised before being allowed to board any vehicle used by the transport service in question; and (c) every individual in or about a vehicle used for a transport service must observe the social distancing rule,” the SI read.
A private operator who refused to be named said he could not put his bus on the road from Chitungwiza to Harare with just 30 passengers.
“I can’t do that because it will be a loss. We normally ferry around 80 passengers and that gives me about $800 with each paying $10, now with 30 it means a trip is $300. It’s just a loss,” he said.
In Gweru, Mutare, and Bulawayo the situation was the same with commuters saying they endured long hours in queues.
“I have been in this queue for the past two hours since 7:30am. I am only going to register my presence at work otherwise it’s no longer worthwhile as I am very late,” said one agitated Bulawayo commuter Nqobizitha Moto who was in a queue waiting for the Zupco bus.
There was chaos at Mudzviti bus terminus Mutare with long queues as people struggled to get into the few buses available.
Memory Sibanda from Hobhouse urged the government to introduce more buses.
“I am just worried, I have been here at Mudzviti bus terminus for almost three hours, I want to go home and cook for my children. The government should introduce more buses,” she said
Early yesterday evening in Harare and Gweru, NewsDay also witnessed meandering queues at bus termini as commuters tried to catch buses home. The workers who had knocked off at 3pm had to endure the long wait.
A Zupco staffer in Gweru told NewsDay that they expected to knock off at midnight.
According to the extended lockdown measures, businesses operate from 8am to 3pm.
Consumer watchdog, National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) urgued authorities to rethink allowing public transport operators to provide services but on condition that they observe COVID-19 health safety guidelines.
“Zupco is inadequate as a sole provider of public transport in the country. Government should open space for private operators on condition that when they ferry passengers, they should carry a maximum of 70% of their full capacity, all passengers wear face masks, all passengers are sanitised and the buses themselves practise maximum hygiene,” said Nacora coordinator Effie Ncube.
“Having people queue the whole morning as happened today (yesterday) is wrong and indicative of bad planning on the part of the government. Many people had to go back home without managing to get to work due to shortage of transport.”
Government is subsidizing public transport through the resuscitation of the Zupco mass public transport company which was on its knees, with corruption and mismanagement cited as the reasons for its misfortunes.
A number of new buses have been imported, while others from private players, mainly plying rural routes have been leased to the Zupco company. — Additional reporting by Brenna Matendere/Kenneth Nyangani