Harare residents yesterday welcomed the decision by Government to bring more than 140 buses into the transport system, giving relief to commuters who were being made to pay exorbitant fares by commuter omnibus operators who enjoyed a virtual monopoly.
Government’s intervention also came with a better fare structure for the commuter in addition to orderliness. This development could signal the return of an effective public transport system in the country and a tough time for commuter operators who have for long taken their passengers for granted.
The timely intervention by the Government is part of a long-term plan to modernise the mass public transport system in Zimbabwe, something the nation has been calling for following the demise of both the National Railways of Zimbabwe’s Freedom Trains and the virtual collapse of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) in urban areas.
Under the latest arrangement, ZUPCO will coordinate the new transport system after it was tasked to manage a fleet of buses that will cover all suburbs in Harare, before extending to other towns and cities.
Managing the project should not be a major challenge for ZUPCO considering its experience in transport logistics and that it is already running a fleet, though small. Apart from being strategically positioned to back up a public transport system, ZUPCO also already has key infrastructure to hit the ground running to ensure the smooth launch for a project of this magnitude, which also long overdue.
Passengers who were already reeling from the effects of unsustainable fare hikes, have given a thumbs up to the new transport arrangement judging by the hundreds of commuters who used the buses yesterday.
That is the good news so far. The test will come with sustaining the new transport system, which we believe will not be a stroll in the park. It calls for input from all stakeholders for its viability.
That starts with good management of the fleet, a proper road infrastructure, back up maintenance of the fleet and an adequate and uninterrupted supply of fuel. These issues should be high on the agenda to ensure there is minimum interruption of this noble project and to build public confidence.
What gave private commuter omnibus operators a competitive edge over other operators, including ZUPCO, was their agility and quick response to the needs of passengers. One of them was getting to their destination on time. For that they can endure high fares and uncouth behaviour by touts.
ZUPCO will win public trust and confidence once it adheres to proper timetables over and above ensuring its fleet is always on the road, with minimum interruption.
The current road infrastructure characterised by potholes, non-functional road traffic signals and generally clogged roads at peak hours, needs to be revamped as a matter of urgency. That will enable buses to move faster to compete alongside the menace of commuter omnibuses that have made our roads impassable or death traps, particularly during peak hours. It calls for huge investment to expand the road network, including demarcating lanes for conventional buses, for both the convenience and safety of the commuter.
Addressing these challenges would set the country’s public transport system on a new trajectory.
President Mnangagwa has outlined his vision to turn Zimbabwe into a middle income economy by 2030, an all-encompassing vision that should be matched by an effective public transport system. That means buses will need to be complemented by an equally efficient rail network to lessen wear and tear on our roads.
With news from President Mnangagwa’s recent visit in Belarus of plans to make Zimbabwe a regional road and rail network hub under a tripartite arrangement involving Zimbabwe, Belarus and China, the future looks bright. But ZUPCO should ready itself for competition, well aware that plans are already afoot to private players.
So there is no room for complacency and ZUPCO doesn’t have the luxury of a long gestation period.