Runyararo Muzavazi Features Writer
The public transport system in Harare has proven to be a nightmare for residents of the capital. Motorists and pedestrians have suffered at the hands of both commuter omnibuses and illegal pirate taxis commonly known as “mushikashika”. Running battles between the spike carrying police and public transport providers have left many injured and some even dead.
In June this year, seven pupils escaped death but were injured when a commuter omnibus they were travelling in overturned along Kwame Nkrumah Avenue while police officers on a motorcycle were in pursuit In January a woman was severely injured when she stepped on a police spike while attempting to disembark a kombi.
Last year a Girl’s High School pupil and a 35-year-old man were struck and killed by a speeding kombi in the city centre. The haphazard public transport system in Harare has become not only a menace to the public but an actual danger.
There is an urgent need for the current system to be overhauled and a new, efficient and safe on put in place. Mike Mpandawana a frequent user of public transport from Tafara cried foul over how passengers get harassed by conductors and drivers.
“Conductors and drivers harass us every day as they fight for passengers. The most upsetting thing is that the drivers and conductors are foul-mouthed and ill-treat female commuters taking advantage of their vulnerability and even rob them of their money during peak hours,” he said
“There is a need to de-congest the city and introduce mass transit vehicles and buses which are able to better navigate the road space.
“A number of issues need to be addressed when it comes to the transport system, among these being safety, jamming, and pollution.”
Mpandawana added that kombis and illegal taxis were a serious risk with the way they speed especially when police officers appear. Another issue that needs to be addressed in the transport system is the mode of payment.
Tichaona Matare (47) questioned the reason the use of plastic money in public transport had not been introduced considering the cash shortages in the country.
“Kombis and taxis require cash yet it is in short supply. It is now difficult for one to go home because the transport facilities do not offer swiping machines and even eco-cash,” he said He further lamented over the unreliability of public transport facilities especially buses which drop off people miles away from their respective destinations.
“Many passengers are at risk of being robbed, raped, assaulted or murdered because some of the stops are so far from their home. Standardisation of the buses and kombis will be a good move in ensuring safety of the passengers.”
Rutendo Kamuche who sells fruits at Fourth Street recommended that the transport system be organised and centralised.
“I use public transport to transport my fruits to the market and every day I get harassed and abused because I am a woman.
“They take advantage of my vulnerability by charging more and even dropping me off far away from my destination with my entire luggage.
I was once robbed of all the money I had toiled for because of the unreliability of these systems. Government needs to save us by structuring laws that protect passengers and bring about order in the city, “she said. Kamuche said she was also concerned by the terrible relationship that existed between law enforcement and transport operators.
“I am worried about the rate at which blameless passengers continue to fall victim to the cat and mouse game between the police and commuter omnibus operators.
“There have been a number of people injured and some even killed. It’s too dangerous a situation,” she said. Harare Residents Trust President Mr Precious Shumba expressed concern over the manner in which passengers, especially women were being treated by commuter operators.
“We are concerned about the continued abuse of people particularly women and girls by touts, at Simon Muzenda Street, the illegal rank along Robert Mugabe Way and by the road port where bus crews collaborate with criminals hiding behind acting like touts to intimidate and harangue passengers,” he said.
Mr Shumba added that people’s human rights were being violated as passengers were being deprived of the right to choose suitable transport options. “The choice of buses, the right to choose which transport facility to use is heavily compromised.
“Many travellers are being intimidated by the touts around theses ranks,” he said. According to Mr Shumba public transport was becoming chaotic and inconvenient, endangering the lives of the passengers.
“Transport users are short changed by kombi crews who do not really get their destinations which force people to then walk long distances to get to their destinations.
“The users also have to endure the pressures at ranks where touts pollute the environment by either making noise or banging doors and revving vehicles, pretending to be going when they are trying to outdo each other,” he said.
In line with Zim-Assest which advocates for an empowered society and a growing economy Mr Shumba said there was need for an efficient public transportation system
“There is need to introduce conventional buses that operate on standardised prices, routes and time. The police also need to respect civilians because the spikes they are using on kombis are medieval weapons.
“Zimbabwe Republic police should leverage technology that can help track law breakers rather than using spikes
“Improvement of law enforcement with regards to drivers and conductors is vital.
“If we look at the transport system in South Africa there are no conductors in commuter omnibus businesses which helps create order and sanity in their cities,” he said.
Urban Development Corporation town planner Mr Shingai Kawadza says the city needs to adopt numerous modes of transport for convenience.
“Harare, as the capital city of the country automatically is the hub of most activities that take place in the country. Physically, economically, socially, and diplomatically most dynamics are observed in the capital.
“For the city to have a viable transport system, the city has to adopt a various modes of public transport among others commuter omnibuses, buses, metered taxis, rail transport, airport shuttle service, cycling and foot/walking. These modes of transport are critical as they offer a choice to the public,” he said.
Mr Kawadza said the city of Harare should emulate the transportation systems of neighbouring cities.
“It is critical for the City of Harare as a starting point to come up with the Harare Public Transport Policy just like their counterparts, Bulawayo City Council has done. The policy is critical in monitoring and controlling public transport traffic,” Mr Kawadza said.
He suggested that the public transport sector embrace the use of plastic money.
“In terms of payment system, public transport must now embrace technology and accept payments from plastic money and also come up with a prepaid system. This is stemming from the fact that cash shortages are a nationwide crisis,” he said. Mr Kawadza added that the only problem that has been left unattended was the case of not having transportation facilities that cater for the disabled.
“It is an international standard that Local Authorities that provide transportation services must provide Para-transit alternatives to individuals who cannot use fixed route services (such as public transport) because of a disability or other serious health condition.
“However, in Zimbabwe, our public transport system in Harare and the country in general is not inclusive of those who are disabled. Efforts must be must be made to cater for the disabled,” he said.
Town Planner Mr Percy Toriro said the major challenge with Harare’s transport system at the moment is an unsustainable over-reliance on kombis. Use of these, he explained, has multiple problems, the first being congestion.
“Since they carry only 16-18 passengers each, hundreds are needed at peak periods to ferry all commuters.
“The second challenge is one of informality; these are all operated by individuals in a loose manner and therefore are accountable to no one except perhaps the owner.
“Thirdly, this system is environmentally unsustainable as too many engines are running at the same time, thereby burning huge amounts of fuel releasing many tonnes of carbon gases into the air,” he said.
Mr Toriro added that another inconveniencing factor about Harare’s public transport is the irregularity in terms of time.
“There are no timetables for buses. One cannot plan to be at a certain point at a certain time,” he said. In the eighties, he reminisced, one could wait for a bus to school or to hospital in order to get there at a certain scheduled time. This is important for planning.
“The current set up is therefore not only chaotic and inconveniencing, but does not encourage people to use public transport.
“In Harare using a private car is not a status issue, but an absolute necessity if one wants to travel in decency,” he added.
Mr Toriro also suggests that Harare needs a mass transit system that is a combination of big buses and railway.
“There is no city in the world that is as big as Harare that entirely relies on kombis and is efficient.
“In South Africa next door, Durban, Cape Town, and Johannesburg all have well-developed railway systems complemented by bus systems. Kombis are there as a complementary service and not as the main system,” he pointed out.
He said there is need for investment in railway and conventional buses if Harare is to have an efficient public transport system.
“The operators may not necessarily be the current NRZ and ZUPCO, but we need similar entities to operate our public transport system.
“Other major bus operators can be invited to invest in the sector as long as they have resources to bring in large 76-seater plus buses and have experience in running efficient public transport systems,” he suggests. By comparison, Mr Toriro said, Harare’s public transport system is poor, comparable to equally inefficient systems that one finds in Nairobi.
“We should emulate countries that have not only developed efficient public transport systems such as Brazil, but have actually used transport to stimulate local economic development.
“The city of Curitiba in Brazil managed to develop efficient transport corridors that have linkages to major economic activities thereby stimulating development.
“Today they are not only an example of an efficient public system, but also an energy-efficient one winning several global awards in the process,” he explains.
In addition to all those measures, he stated, there is a dire need for significant investment in roads and ancillary public transport infrastructure such as the bus termini and bus stops.
“All these need significant upgrades in order to attract the higher income commuter,” he added