HARARE – Last month, government allowed a fleet of private buses to join forces with the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) in servicing cities and towns so as to counter the high transport costs that were being charged by kombi operators.
The exorbitant fares had adversely affected workers and school children who commute daily to and from work/school.
Coming immediately after the three-day stay-away which ran from January 14 to 16 this year, some of us were suspicious of this act of generosity.
Stung by the hugely successful protests, government did not only blame the main labour movement and non-governmental organisations for the violence, looting and wanton destruction of property that accompanied the demonstrations: It was also quick to blame kombis operators for withdrawing their services.
By introducing alternative cheap transport, government has therefore had its revenge. Although the idea appears noble on paper, we wondered if it could last.
While this is being touted as an initiative by the moribund Zupco, we doubt if the parastatal had anything to do with it.
In its current state, Zupco has no financial stamina to deliver on its end of the bargain and it is only a matter of time before the independent bus operators walk away from the deal.
To start with, there are a lot of grey areas regarding how this arrangement was structured, especially in terms of payments for services rendered.
We also don’t think that Zupco, even with the help of Treasury, can sustain fuelling all these buses when the country is grappling with fuel and foreign currency shortages.
Already, events of the past few days have been disturbing to those who thought their transport problems were over as the buses became erratic, hence leaving passengers stranded.
We hear some of the operators have pulled out, resulting in kombi operators taking advantage of the situation by doubling their fares once again.
Zupco and its parent ministry of Local Government should explain to the commuting public on the challenges they are encountering so that people make other transport arrangements as they have to adjust their transport costs.
It is a big betrayal for Zupco and its parent ministry to keep quiet and pretend that everything is okay as workers and school children get stranded until late in the evening.
While government is pinning its hope on the buses sourced outside the country by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, these may take years to come. Without proper structures, systems and effective management at Zupco, the effort can also easily to go waste.