ZUPCO buses bring sanity to public transport system

by Prosperity Mzila

I was quite puzzled to see the MDC Alliance vice president, Tendai Biti taking selfies at the entrance of the High Court; he was bragging that he had just come out from presenting a matter concerning the “monopoly” by ZUPCO over other public transport operators.  This was after his party leader Nelson Chamisa had come out guns blazing saying that him and his party will never again approach the courts for any fight he might have with Government or ZANU PF party as the courts were according to him joined at the hip with ZANU PF.

How can ZUPCO be presented as a company that is monopolising the public transport space, when in actual fact it has brought sanity and competition to the sector.  All competitors within the public transport space are welcome to with ZUPCO on a level playing field.

I’m reminded of a time back in the early to late 80s when our public transport space was run by Harare United.  There were few traffic accidents involving public transport, there was order and bus stops were maintained, the Harare United ranked at designated pick up and drop of points, pick up times were maintained giving people reliability which also it helped with urban travel planning.  The more buses they were the merrier.

Before ZUPCO folded due to mismanagement and corruption back in in 2003 when Bright Matonga was still the Chief Executive Officer of that bus company, Zimbabwe ran a viable public transport system.  The privatisation of public transport which was meant to then augment the ailing ZUPCO birthed the omnibuses and mushikashika and from then on confusion reigned.

The ranking and parking spaces meant for pick up and drop of points were vandalised a situation which led to undesignated pick up and drop off points mushrooming everywhere.  Chaos reigned as road rules and regulations were thrown out the window.  Passengers were treated as bags of maize; drivers were driving without due care and diligence.  The sanctity of life was not preserved, as both passengers and pedestrians were killed due to reckless driving.

A brief discussion with the commuting public will reveal what they prefer for their daily transportation as compared to a lawyer who has never set foot in public transport for well over 30 years.  The jubilation exhibited by the commuters when President Emmerson Mnangagwa commissioned a new batch of 50 ZUPCO buses on the 5th of March spoke volumes on the appreciation of Government addressing the transport issues.

For a long time the economic situation in Zimbabwe has been about competitiveness.  A lot of calls especially from the MDC Alliance had been that the economy cannot be dictated to and that it should be left to determine its own course.  Same with the transport system as it is also part of commerce a means to trade.  If people find the ZUPCO transport system cheaper and able to meet their income, they will go there and wait for it until it comes. They are assured that they will at least remain with some change to buy bread for their families.

Commuter Omnibuses on the other hand were the ones who held a monopoly before and would fleece the commuters of their hard earned monies as the transport fares changed according to weather, rush hour or off peak hours.  They never had a fixed price from point A to B.  Commuters that sought transport from the Central Business District (CBD) to Gleview or Budiriro, would be charged twice, from the CBD to Rothmans and from Rothmans to Budiriro or Glenview.  Commuters had no choice but to comply, there was no alternative.

Enter the New Dispensation that listens to the people.  After several consultation with the public and on hearing the many cries about how expensive it was to commute to and from work, unstable bus fares presented by the private commuter omnibus companies, the New Dispensation made a decision to cushion the workers from exorbitant transport fares.  It hit the ground running on the issue of public transportation and it sought to bring back the urban buses through the resuscitation of the ZUPCO bus company. 

Thus on one of President Mnangagwa’s Euro-Asia state visits, he kept it in his mind that his people at home had a transport crisis and he made it a priority to secure buses to alleviate the problem.  The Belarus government managed to afford the Government of Zimbabwe with a facility of 500 buses to boost its public transport system.  This was the initial step toward the modernisation of public transport.

Today people are happy with the continued increase of buses that continue to be commissioned as it eases their transport woos further.  ZUPCO buses cost only ZW$60 whereas the private commuters cost as much as US$1 to US$2 per trip. 

For Biti to approach the courts attacking ZUPCO does not make sense at all since it is the public who determine which mode of transport they prefer to use.  The Government has not banned private transport system, they should provide favourable service and transport fares to the commuters and they might score.  Its not really a matter for the courts but rather a matter of supply and demand, let the economy figure itself out. The court should stay out of this case.  If anything this exposes the desperation engulfing Biti and his private transport operators who are being thrown out of business because of their profiteering habits.  They should just be reasonable prices, offer decent treatment to passengers and everything will work itself out.

However, there is an order that is presented by passenger buses, even on our roads and also that a single bus carries a lot of passengers as compared to smaller commuter omnibuses, road regulations are followed to book and lives are saved.  Developed countries use the bus system which helps decongest their streets in the CBD.  President Mnangagwa is in the right direction opting for bus transport systems both in urban and provincial areas.  China, United Kingdom, Russia and United States all use buses or subway trains to deal with the large numbers of commuters at the same time maintaining sanity in their roads.  If it were up to me, the private commuters should just be banned and the drivers to seek for work at bus companies.