Govt must go back to the drawing board on public transport system


IN our NewsDay publication yesterday, we carried two stories speaking to the state of Zimbabwe’s public transport sector.

As of August 1, public transport operators, with the financial wherewithal to import buses, can bring in 20 of the vehicles duty-free every year.

The obviously welcome short in the arm for private sector public transport operators comes as we also reported yesterday that the deal between private transporters and State-run public transporter, the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco), had fallen through as Zupco is reportedly rocked by financial turbulence and rumoured to be shedding staff in an attempt to weather the storm.

It is a pity that given Zupco’s roots, the company has deteriorated to such pathetically low levels. Zupco and the country’s public transport sector’s untenable state of decay points to a system that has utterly failed to get its act together as far as establishing an organised and sustainable public transport system.

And sadly, the solutions government keeps proffering are hardly anything to write home about because the plight of commuters in towns and long distance travellers is piteous for a country boasting so many natural riches and hoping to attain upper-middle income status by 2030.

We are still wondering where the country got it wrong after inheriting a well-established public transport system that had well-managed bus and rail services for the convenience of Zimbabweans. Zupco was arguably the best regional State-run public transport service and the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) was equally competitive, offering alternative cheaper and decent transport services straddling the entire country.

But all that is gone, and now a distant fairy tale.

Zupco is a pale shadow of its former glory, with only rusted bus shells at company depots countrywide still pointing back to the good old days. And the cables that once powered electric trains between Harare and Gweru were long looted without trace. No one was ever arrested for the disappearance of more than 500km of the very expensive cables as the NRZ painfully resorts to diesel-powered noisy and smoky locomotives. If truth be told, blame falls squarely on government, which has allowed once workable systems to collapse as it cast a blind eye to corruption and looting of State resources, which have grounded transport services and other sectors.

Government has been so complicit in the collapse of Zimbabwe’s public transport sector that it has not even raised a finger at parastatals that are brazenly refusing to submit financial reports for auditing by the Auditor-General.

The institution purportedly created to fight graft in government and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has been turned into a toothless bulldog.

Little wonder then, that Zupco and the Local Government ministry are refusing to supply information to the media on how some of the buses being used by the public transporter were acquired.

Meanwhile, we are afraid to say that government’s move to open the floodgates on bus imports will not save the situation because it is foolhardy for any government to offload its public transport responsibility to for-profit private players. No government can ever trust the private sector to effectively run public transport. This can only be done to that government’s peril.

In fact, this will never work and the failure of the Zupco and private transporters alliance is perfect and clear proof. Only a government with its people at heart can run a public transport system and not profit-driven individuals running transport businesses. Government must simply go back to the drawing board and reset the way it has been doing business, which has, unfortunately, ruined effective systems.