Kombis must go by any means possible

Tirivanhu Kateera

The urban public transport system in Zimbabwe prior to the national lockdown in March 2020 was basically informal and fragmented. This can be well understood when one traces back to the macro-economic policies adopted by the Government between 1990 and 2000. First was the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) which many developing countries were tricked to adopt in the early 1990s.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) supported the ESAP with a $125 million structural adjustment loan (SAL) and a $50m structural adjustment credit (SAC), both approved in 1992 and closed in 1993.

The ESAP sought to ostensibly transform Zimbabwe’s tightly controlled economic system to a more open, market-driven economy. The restructuring purportedly sought to promote higher growth and to reduce poverty and unemployment by reducing fiscal and parastatal deficits and instituting prudent monetary policy, liberalising trade policies and foreign exchange system, carrying out domestic deregulation and establishing social safety net and training programmes for vulnerable groups. In line with goal on domestic deregulation, the Government partially deregulated the urban transport sector in August 1993 allowing privately operated ‘commuter omnibuses’ (kombis) to compete with the then monopoly Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO).

Prior to lockdown measures last year, kombis had captured approximately 99 percent of the urban public transport sector in Zimbabwe and the other one percent was covered by pirate taxis and metered taxis.

This is despite the position that the Zimbabwe National Transport Policy (2012) sought to promote the use of high-capacity transport modes such as conventional buses and gradually phasing out kombis with a capacity of less than 26 seats. The transport policy further seeks to introduce controlled deregulation on high-demand routes through competitive tendering. The issue of competitive tendering had not been implemented by that time.

So the banning of kombis under Section 4 (2) (a) of the Public Health (Covid-19) Prevention, Containment and Treatment (National Lockdown) Order of 2020 is not abrupt, neither is it ill timed as some people claim? Government is simply implementing its policies to protect the commuting public from marauding kombi crew.

In any case, kombi crews were given a chance to reform or improve the way they operate and handle passengers, because criticism has always been that they abuse travellers, don’t respect road rules and they do their business through unorthodox means.

Operational competition which brought about too many kombis was characterised by drivers over speeding, cutting corners, red light and late amber running, tailgating and following too closely to the leading vehicle in a queue, driving in the inner lane of the opposing traffic and creation of artificial lanes during the peak periods, loading and dropping off passengers outside the designated bus termini.

Other kombi crew ills included use foul language, theft and robbery.

Creation of artificial bus termini around intersections induces serious bottleneck to traffic flow in the road network leading to recurrent traffic congestion. These operational characteristics are secondary effects of cut-throat competition caused by an oversupply of vehicles per given route per given time against limited ridership

Kombis crews blew their chance to reform. At various fora the filthy behaviour of kombi crews was topical and condemned in strongest terms in newspapers and shows such as Mai Chisamba and others.

Some people have a short memory; they seem or pretend to forget how the kombi crew used to ill treat them.

If they had improved in the said areas, everyone would be supporting them and I should be lobbying for them now.

The crews and their surrogates rank marshals chose to behave like animals, not just animals but animals with rabies or mad cow disease.

In Shona we say, ndomene haichemedze, in Nigeria they say he who brings home ants infested faggots should not complain when lizards visits.

We are happy that the situation has gone to another level, private kombis have been banned. Bravo.

Anyone who wants to operate his/her small kombi must do so under ZUPCO. This is it. Well done. We want order in the city.

Prior to 1993, there was order because there were no kombis; it worked before why not this time. Those who think the ZUPCO initiative won’t work, it will work. It is them who will not work.

The other argument that has been proffered is that ZUPCO do not have fleet big enough to meet demand.

Government is seized with this matter and that’s why more buses are being purchased at ZUPCO to cover the gap.

So the war against pirate kombis must be escalated. No stone must left unturned, remember as mentioned earlier, we are dealing with animals with rabies or mad cow, so no funnies.

Maximum force must be used to stop kombis.

To further paralyse or cut oxygen for pirate kombis, those passengers caught boarding them should be charged and fined heavily. By so doing, there will be a two pronged approach to the fight.

So far so good, there is order in the Central Business Districts of major cities such as Bulawayo, Harare, and Mutare.