Today commuter omnibuses on the south-west suburban routes will start using the Coventry Road holding bay, being brought into the city centre at their Copacabana terminus as they are needed. The system brings planning to the city’s public transport for the first time. This is not going to be easy. The kombis are all individually owned and the drivers generally rent buses by the day and have to carry as many passengers as possible in as many trips as possible to make a profit. There has been some co-operation but generally it is every driver for himself.
For most routes the problem has been compounded by the lack of large terminuses in the central and western areas of the Central Business District; only the eastern routes have a terminus that can be considered adequate and even that Fourth Street terminus is both a little too small and far from where most commuters need to be dropped off and picked.
In the days of the Zupco monopoly, this was not a major problem. Zupco kept its buses at its depot to the west of the city centre and brought them into the city when they were needed. Zupco staff were stationed at the main bus stops and would assess the numbers needing a bus and call for more buses during the rush hours.
This old system forms the basis of what Harare City Council will do today. The kombis for the south-western routes, easily the most popular, will be parked at the new holding bay and will be called into the city centre by council staff when they are needed. The holding bay is not a terminus and passengers will not be allowed to board buses there; they will be picked up and dropped off where they have always been picked up and dropped off. The main difference is that there will be only one or two buses waiting for them, instead of dozens blocking the road.
The system should work. The council has recognised that in the early morning rush hour it does not make sense to have the kombis moving in and out of the holding bays; they will continue to come into the city, drop their passengers and then return for another load. But as the rush ends they will be expected to park in Coventry Road, not on the streets of the CBD.
This is when those council officials on duty at Copocabana are going to have to learn to plan, so that they can call buses just in time to collect passengers.
We do not need hundreds of people waiting at bus stops, just as we do not need dozens of buses blocking the streets waiting for passengers.
We believe that, given a degree of co-operation all round, a willingness by kombi drivers to give the concept a fair trial, and an absolute commitment to fairness by city officials, the system will work, although we suspect that it may take a few days for everyone to get used to the new way of doing things and for everyone to learn just how long it takes for a kombi to drive from the holding bays at different times of the day, and so how much notice has to be given.
Car and truck drivers will need to realise that the new system does not ban kombis from the city centre; there will be just as many on the roads as they have always been.
What it does do is stop kombis parking in the city centre, and stop them causing huge traffic jams as they jostle for customers.
The basic idea is good.
At long last the city council is going to implement it.
Now we need to go through that trying stage of perfecting the idea in the light of experience and that will require everyone — officials, passengers and drivers — to keep an open mind, being ready to share ideas and most importantly being willing to listen to others.
We are moving from an unplanned system to a planned system, so we all have to co-operate.