EDITORIAL COMMENT: Council must take control of its own bus terminuses Kombis await their turn to ferry commuters to various suburbs at the Market Square rank

REPORTS that touts at bus termini, elevated to the posher title of rank marshal, are pocketing between them something in the region of US$1 million from an illegal levy on bus and kombi drivers using the Harare termini will not surprise commuters, although it may well startle city council senior officials.

The termini are all owned by Harare City Council, and if the city council was up to its job they would be run by the city council.

Instead the five associations grouping owners and operators of kombis, two large groups and three smaller ones, try hard to set some basic standards of queuing and allocation of parking bays or loading platform for each route served by each terminus.

But the true masters of the termini are the space barons who allocate some of the areas to vendors, and the touts who have each taken control of a length of bays and force every driver using the termini to pay US$2. You cannot ever see a municipal policeman or other municipal official in any terminus, unless that person is queuing with other passengers for a place on a kombi.

We would concede that when the Harare United Omnibus Company held the monopoly on bus services within Harare, a function that passed to Zupco when Huoc and its smaller partner company of the rest of the country, ZOC, the bus company ran the municipal terminuses plus the bus stops, maintaining order, making sure the shelters were adequate and putting up timetables, a legal requirement.

But that was a long time ago, and now hundreds of different bus and kombi owners use the municipal-owned termini and there are limits to what each can do.

In other words, the city council needs to take a far more active management role, and that means an effective management role.

Reasonably successful efforts by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development to get a strong grip on the public transport sector without destroying the sole means of transport for the majority of city workers, has seen the operators agreeing to form associations, and while the number has grown to five they appear to represent their members reasonably effectively.

During clampdowns by the police and the Transport Ministry, the associations have been able to ensure that the services offered by their members are minimally affected, so long as the vehicles and drivers used by members are properly licenced and insured, and generally the associations make this legality a condition of membership.

So while maverick kombis and mushikashika sometimes have to travel along backroads and take rather sharp avoiding action to miss police roadblocks or just the police checking on discs at traffic intersections, the drivers of the kombis whose owners belong to the five associations just drive through.

Passengers tend to like them because each association makes members put up the insignia, which includes a complaints telephone number and a unique ID number, so it is easy to track an errant driver or even claim back lost property.

But the city council itself needs to reclaim the termini, although they would be wise to consult Zupco and the five associations of independent operators when working out the best way to run and maintain these termini.

One point that the touts have proved, is that while the operators and drivers might not like the illegal fees that end up in the pockets of the touts, the viability of the public transport operations and the use of termini has not been affected. So the council could charge fees and with some support if the whole of the fee money was used to upgrade and support the termini.

At the same time the council could evict the space barons who rent out shelters and parking bays to vendors, but could set up some proper market stalls at the edge of the termini and rent these out for a modest daily fee, although the huge market for second-hand clothes in the Simon Muzenda Street terminus, a pure space baron creation, would have to go.

So the city council could take over the management of the termini and legally collect a user fee from each kombi or bus.

The fee could probably be lower than what the touts charge, but if in consultations with Zupco and the associations a proper budget could be approved, it could be the same. But however it is organised, there must be that consultation and there must be agreement on what the money is spent on.

This would cover the expenses of legal marshals, legal municipal police providing basic security, public lighting, functioning public toilets and decent garbage bins. Even a proper fence, like we see at the Harare public car parks, would be welcome.

There should be the odd dollar left over for better signposting, although the drivers have managed to get the basics in and on some routes there is a sign hung from the door of the front bus or kombi in the queue of where the route goes that is moved down the line as each kombi drives off.

Public transport receives a low priority in Harare, and when so many public services have little priority then to be near the bottom of the list is rather serious.

Yet a decent public transport system is required in all important and major cities, and in many even the rich use public transport, both for convenience as well as speed, after finding out their fancy cars get trapped in traffic jams and then finding parking very difficult.

Harare’s termini are a near disaster and an abomination and would disgrace cities of half Harare’s size and wealth.

Yet it would not be difficult to get a firm grip on the whole mess, put in order, make sure that any corner allocated to markets were properly run, keep the place clean and generally move the whole block of termini up the scale so that they can be at least some credit to the city.

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