Some kombis and pirate taxis (mushikashika) continue to operate within cities and towns, filling gaps despite the recent improvements in Zupco services, and on intercity routes where traffic is largely banned to ensure any outbreak of Covid-19 can be quickly isolated in its town of origin.
Unlike the Zupco kombi fleet, which is largely built from private operators who have accepted Zupco contracts and rules, passengers on the private kombis do not have their hands sanitised when boarding and are not required to wear face masks.
Yet these kombis can go through roadblocks.
Some of the kombis service routes not serviced by Zupco, especially into Mbare from suburban centres of employment, with their customers able to get to Mbare without changing buses.
These inter-suburb routes frequently use roads where there is no police presence.
Since intercity movement by mass public transport is temporarily prohibited, kombis are charging high prices.
For instance, the Harare-Mutare route, which has for sometime been costing the black market equivalent of US$5, now costs between US$10 and US$20. Police, especially those manning roadblocks along highways, are reportedly being bribed in forex.
The Herald yesterday visited some of the newly-established sites where the commuter omnibus operators who have since removed white number plates were operating from, albeit in the presence of police officers.
At ZBC traffic lights in Mbare along Simon Mazorodze Road, a fleet of kombis plying routes to Glen View, Highfield and Budiriro were operating under the nose of police officers.
Touts were also seen luring potential passengers.
The situation was almost the same at the corner of Seke and Dieppe roads, commonly referred to as the Coke Corner, where kombis plying Mutare and Mutoko routes were loading passengers at ease.
Just a stone’s throw away, kombis that ply the Epworth-City centre route were parked and taking turns to load passengers, despite the fact that police had a roadblock nearby.
This reporter spoke to one conductor only identified as Kuda plying the Harare-Mutare route who narrated how they manage to pass through the police checks.
“Our fare should be about US$7, but it is between US$12 to US$15 as we also need to pay police US$5 per each roadblock for them to grant us permission to pass through,” he said.
“The money we pay to the police also covers for those without travelling documents.”
A kombi being driven to Mutare passes through various possible checks in Harare, Ruwa, Marondera, Macheke, Headlands, Rusape and Nyazura.
In an interview, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said as police, they were concerned with the resumption of business by some kombi operators that are mostly doing inter-suburban trips.
“Those kombis risk being blacklisted,” he said. “We have activated police systems so that we impound such vehicles and take action against the operators and their crews.
“Those paying bribes at roadblocks risk being arrested together with the police officers they are paying. No going back on that. On inter-suburban trips, kombis are taking advantage that most roads do not have police checks.”
Asst Comm Nyathi said members disregarding Covid-19 induced national lockdown risked being arrested.
“The kombis do not have Covid-19 exemption and some are ferrying passengers without wearing face masks.”
Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme said they were working with ZRP to ensure compliance with traffic regulations.
A major problem on some routes is the shortage of kombis and buses registered with Zupco.
It had been hoped that as the official Zupco kombi contract fleet expanded, it would be possible to run more services along routes offering passengers.
Instead, those who cannot wait for well over an hour for a Zupco bus are tempted to use the service offered by pirate kombis, despite the higher cost and lack of safety.