By Nyaradzo Nyere
The government’s ban against privately owned public transport vehicles from servicing urban routes has driven many households into poverty, operators have said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government last year used the outbreak of Covid-19 to push public transport operators out of the industry, arguing that they were potential drivers of the pandemic.
A monopoly was created for the perennially struggling Zimbabwe Passenger Company (Zupco) to service the routes after the government imported buses for the State-owned company.
Zupco also absorbed some public transporters through a controversial franchise system.
Ngoni Katsvairo, Greater Harare Association of Commuter Omnibus Operators secretary general, said the ban against public transporters had a devastating effect on his organisation’s members.
“It has caused loss of livelihoods, employment and socio-economic changes (for our members,” Katsvairo said.
He said the Zupco franchise system was disadvantaging operators as they were not paid on time. The transport operator said the ban was also breeding corruption as some public transporters were forced to use money to circumvent the restrictions.
“Those enrolled at Zupco are not being paid enough and it’s coming in very late,” Katsvairo said.
“Corruption and rogue driving has increased due to the fact that there is now more cat and mouse games with law enforcers. Some of them do not do it strictly for the law, but for personal gain.
He added: “This is happening both in urban and rural routes.
“Pirate motorists have also found a gap to make money by capitalising on the lack of public transport caused by the government ban.
“Toyota Wishes, Honda Fits, open trucks and lorries are now the transporters of choice albeit illegally.”
To tame the chaos, Katsvairo suggested that the government must allow owners of privately owned commuter omnibuses to create their own franchises that will compliment Zupco.
“Zupco needs to admit that it has been overwhelmed and the government should allow legal commuter omnibus owners’ associations to operate private franchises to complement Zupco while managing their own affairs,” he said.
“This will ensure that the operators can readily access money to service their vehicles and pay workers on time.
“The three or four franchises, including Zupco, can still have fares regulated and monitored under a tight regulatory framework that includes the associations as members.
“This can be replicated throughout the country.”
Israel Murefu, the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe, said private transporters should be allowed back on urban routes to prevent overcrowding, which could fuel Covid-19 infections.
“We appeal for more transport to be made available to reduce overcrowding in public transport facilities, and private transporters who demonstrate capacity to comply with all Covid-19 protocols, should be allowed to operate so as to reduce pressure on Zupco,” Murefu said.
Asked about the alleged corruption involving police and pirate tax operators, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “Any persons, who will be found acting corruptly or outside the law will be prosecuted.”