Commuter Omnibus operators in Harare have already switched into panic mode as reforms in urban transport sector fast gather momentum following the commissioning of 28 ZUPCO buses last week, 263Chat Business has established.
Government has ordered 500 buses from Belarus, 200 from South Africa and 100 from China as part of its resuscitation of the transport parastatal.
Speaking at the Independence celebrations last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said ZUPCO buses will be deployed across the country to provide affordable transport to the commuting public as kombi operators were swindling commuters by unfairly hiking fares.
“The commuting public has been at the mercy of errant kombi operators for a long time. Government has now stepped in to alleviate the plight of the commuters through the reintroduction of buses under the banner of ZUPCO. We are increasing the ZUPCO fleet so that affordable bus services are extended to all areas, especially in rural areas,” said President Mnangagwa.
While the move by government has been applauded as a timely intervention likely to bring sanity in urban transport, uncertainty is looming large over the future of private players in the sector.
Government has already issued warning shots that it wants to create sufficient markets in urban centres for its ZUPCO busses to operate, but private players are livid.
“The coming in of the buses is likely to push us out of business,” said Tinashe Muduwa, a commuter omnibus operator in Harare told 263Chat Business.
“We realize that since they brought these few buses in Harare after the shutdown in January, we have been forced to adjust our fares but as you know these buses are getting their fuel at a subsidized price and ours is not, so it’s a bit unfair and now the new buses will make it even more difficult,” he added.
Kombi fares plummeted drastically following the introduction of private owned buses under a partnership with ZUPCO in January this year with routes to places such as Chitungwiza and Ruwa that had pegged fares at $ 4 to Harare CBD reducing to $ 1.50.
Market watchers have called on government to accommodate kombi operators as their services remain critical in not just providing transport to the public but also as a crucial employment segment for the urban youths.
They however call on authorities to ensure strict monitoring of service provision by the kombi operators and their formalization to bring about efficiency and quality in the urban transport system.
“We want a situation where the pricing and quality of service favours the commuter who has to pay for these services. Having all kinds of transport modes in the cities will yield competitive pricing and we need even the NRZ to come on board and also offer trains but this should not mean kombis are phased out, they remain very critical but we welcome this competition as it improves the service,” Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) president Tafadzwa Goliath said.
The introduction of ZUPCO buses is expected to meet the growing demand of transport across the country’s major cities in the wake of rising population in urban centers.