Harare’s transport menace: thousands stranded in the cold
…Local government Minister summoned to parliament over Zupco failure
…Where are the imported buses?
It is 7pm on a Tuesday and Maud Maisiri waits impatiently in a bus line, in Harare’s central business district.
She has been waiting three hours since knocking off from work.
There is no bus in site as hundreds of commuters, freezing in the winter cold grumble about the worsening transport challenges.
“It was a hustle coming to work and now I do not know what time I am going to get home,” Maisiri complains.
Impatient commuters could be seen seated precariously in open trucks while others braved the suffocating delivery trucks to catch a ride home.
“This is what we have been reduced to. Imagine being cramped inside a truck like a sack of potatoes. Surely, we deserve better,” Maisiri a civil servant grumbled as she stood in the meandering line.
The opening of schools has exposed government’s weak transport system, which cannot meet the rising demand.
At Copa Cabana bus terminal, hundreds of commuters were left stranded on Tuesday after a few Zupco buses came to pick up passengers, with part of the restless crowd forcing their way into already crammed buses.
Some could be seen getting into the bus through windows, as some hung precariously at the back of the bus.
Government introduced the Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (Zupco) buses in 2019 in response to mass protests over a fuel hike.
To pacify the irate public, the Zupco fares were relatively lower than private commuters which were also banned in 2020.
Government’s gamble to reintroduce a public transport system has since backfired as transport woes persist.
Charles Gwazu, a student at Harare Polytechnic also in the meandering queue says government has failed to address the perennial transport challenges.
“My study time is being wasted because I must stand in this queue to catch a ride home. This is my final year and I need more time to study. I think government should admit that their Zupco system is not working and ask private operators to help,” Gwazu said.
Government last year launched a blitz to remove pirate taxis, known as Mushikashika and private commuters accusing them of failing to adhere to Covid-19 rules.
For more than two decades, commuter omnibuses have been the preferred intercity mode of transport in the country, lauded for their efficiency and speed.
Since the ban, Zimbabweans have struggled to find decent transport to ferry them to and from work.
School children have not been spared, as they are forced to board crammed open trucks to school.
Preying on the transport woes, some private individuals took advantage of the situation to charge as much as $4 from Harare to Chitungwiza, 20 km from central Harare.
Others charged $2 for a 15km journey from central Harare, worsening problems for the already struggling public reeling from unrelenting economic problems.
Local Government minister July Moyo has since been summoned by parliament to explain why Zupco has failed to offer reliable transport.
“As it is, due to a lack of reliable public transport, people are getting home at around 11PM. People are delaying coming to work up to around 9AM or 10AM. It is causing loss of production time and loss of quality time within people’s homes,” Member of Parliament for Mbizo, Settlement Chikwinya said.
Chikwinya said Zupco monopoly had failed, while urging the government to re-open public transport provision to private players.
Zimbabwe Passengers Association president, Tafadzwa Goliath said the transport problems had been compounded by some private players pulling out of the Zupco franchise.
“Some kombis have pulled out of Zupco because of contractual issues. This has worsened the situation. Government should feed the market with more buses, especially the new ones,” Goliath said.
In January this year, acting Zupco chief executive Evaristo Mandangwa said: “We received a total of 349 buses (last year) imported by the government, excluding those that were given to the Public Service Commission. These buses have been dispatched to all the 10 provinces where they are operating, and we are expecting more buses this year. A total of 115 buses have been imported via South Africa and these will be in the country in the coming week.”
It is however worrying that with all the figures being parroted by Zupco and government, only a few buses are on the roads.
In his Workers Day address, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said workers deserved an efficient transport system and told Zupco to bring back ‘sanity’ in the sector.
“You, as our workers, deserve an efficient and affordable transport system so that production time as well as your family time is not lost in transport queues. During peak hours, workers must be transported with the greatest ease. I, therefore, direct authorities at ZUPCO and the responsible ministry to heed this call and bring back order in the sector,” Mnangagwa said.