Innocent Ruwende and Abigail Mawonde
GOVERNMENT has reversed a decision by MDC-T-led Harare City Council to ban commuter omnibuses from the central business district (CBD), saying the hurried move was not in the interests of the commuting public.
There was chaos in Harare yesterday as council sought to enforce the ban.
Commuter omnibus operators dropped passengers on the outskirts of the city, forcing them to walk long distances to their workplaces in town.
In a statement yesterday, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Cde July Moyo said council took the decision without first providing a viable and inexpensive alternative for commuters.
The minister said council’s decision was regrettable.
“Accordingly, and in full view of the decentralised function that the Harare City Council would ordinarily exercise by legislative delegation, I as the responsible Minister, hereby reverse and rescind with immediate effect the said decision and subsequent announcement by the city banning commuter omnibuses and kombis access to the Central Business District until such a time that proper and sustainable transit arrangements are put in place for workers and the travelling public.
“My directive is issued in terms of Section 134 of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15),” said Minister Moyo.
He added: “My directive has been issued in light of the fact that the council’s decision and action are not in the interest of the inhabitants of the council area and the Harare Metropolitan Province, to the extent that they hinder free travel by tourists and the general public, and injure the general national and public interest. Accordingly, I have conveyed the reversal and the rescission to the City Council in writing.”
Minister Moyo said the decision did not cover unregistered vehicles that were unlawfully engaged in commuter services like the “mushikashikas”.
It also does not condone illegal vending and money changing.
“As the responsible Minister, I apologise to all Harare residents, residents of Harare Metropolitan Province and our valued visitors for the disruptions and inconveniences already suffered.
“Further, I inform all residents of the Metropolitan Province that the renewal of the city’s public transport system, will be properly undertaken by Central Government. All stakeholders, including transport operators, businesses, residents and vendors, through their respective representatives, will be consulted for smooth execution,” said Minister Moyo.
He said steps towards developing a Transport Master Plan for the Harare Metropolitan Province had been undertaken.
In a statement earlier, Harare mayor councillor Bernard Manyenyeni conceded that the operation had caused unintended consequences which greatly inconvenienced commuters.
“…I have received generally negative feedback in these first 8 hours of this project. It has created many unintended outcomes and inconveniences to the general public of Harare. In particular the issue of distances from drop-off points and the additional bus shuttle costs to a hard-pressed community. We are also alive to possible resistance by kombi drivers and the general inconvenience of this planned model,” said Clr Manyenyeni.
Clr Manyenyeni appeared to blame the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing for the exercise.
“We are concerned and urge the Ministry to suspend the Operation until revised or modified to remove the problems encountered so far. I urge all affected people to exercise restraint in handling any inconvenience faced so far.
As the policymakers we would want to be more involved in any future plans for projects of this nature within Harare. We look forward to an immediate suspension of this exercise,” he said.
Yesterday kombis were dropping passengers at sites further away from the newly designated sites.
They were not carrying passengers from the new sites further frustrating commuters.
Commuters from western suburbs were dropped at the Showground instead of the Coventry Holding Bay.
Those from Chitungwiza were dropped at Coca-Cola in Graniteside industrial area.
Transporters and commuters fumed over the hurried decision by council.
Town planner and local governance expert Mr Percy Toriro said there was need to adopt proper strategies if council was to implement such a move.
“I am following the new transport strategy for Harare from afar. My advice is for the CBD decongestion to work several processes must be undertaken,” he said.
“Firstly there must be proper comprehensive planning. Second the plan must be accepted by the stakeholders. This means extensive engagement. Lastly there must be thorough preparations in terms of the relevant infrastructure, operational preparedness, scenario-testing and so on. I am not sure all this was done.”
The Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) described the kombi ban as an ill-conceived decision.
“The Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) would like to publicly state that the recent move by the Harare City Council to ban commuter omnibuses from the Central Business District (CBD) is ill-conceived and clearly reveals the lack of consultation of critical stakeholders before decisions that affect the general public are implemented,” said CHRA.
“The ill-advised move by the council has come with extra costs for commuters who now have to fork out extra money to get into town after being dropped off from faraway places such as Rotten Row rank, Coventry Road as well as Coca-Cola along Seke Road.”
It added: “Besides the extra costs, the move by the council will also result in increased delays of the commuting public as some will be forced to walk long distances into town especially given the current economic situation in the country which has seen the majority living far beyond the Poverty Datum Line (PDL).”
Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators (GHACCO) secretary general Mr Ngoni Katsvairo said council never consulted them as transporters.
“They never bothered to consult or involve current operators and their associations. They must learn from Bulawayo. Is there no order there – three kombi associations have always provided the service and they are doing excellently well.
“They also did not think of the disposable incomes of our passengers who are now going to fork out more money through the forced shuttle system unlike the current one we were operating based on luxury needs. Consultation is key in any development or public policy pronouncements.”
The Passenger Association of Zimbabwe president Mr Tafadzwa Goliati wrote to council yesterday raising issues with the operation.
“This decision is going to promote mishika-shika (pirate taxis) and a number of commuters are going to prefer the use of private vehicles as these can take them in and out of the CBD. Use of pirate taxis and private vehicles exposes commuters to robberies and in the event of an accident they will not be covered by passenger insurance,” he said.
There are 10 000 commuter omnibuses in Harare according to council.