Bulawayo councillors are planning to lobby the government to allow private transport operators to resume operations as the ZUPCO buses are struggling to meet demand.
After COVID-19 broke out in the country, the government banned commuter omnibuses and other private players, only allowing ZUPCO on the roads.
But transport challenges have seen commuters spending long hours queuing for ZUPCO buses while some have resorted to walking to and from work.
Debating during a full council meeting, Wednesday, city councillors said the COVID-19 provincial taskforce had to be engaged on the public transport situation in the city.
“We should write and engage the task force, telling them to come up with a policy that allows commuter omnibuses back on the streets. More transport means social distancing can be enforced,” said Councillor Mlandu Ncube.
He said transport operators such as BUPTA and Tshova Mubaiwa had served the Bulawayo community well over the years.
“At funerals, these operators carried mourners for free. Now we forget about them yet both drivers and conductors need to feed their families. I don’t think transport operators can fail to buy hand sanitisers. We must not promote laws that spread poverty and it’s also sad that teachers and nurses have become conductors, as government drove out the kombis from work,” Cllr Ncube lamented.
Cllr Donaldson Mabutho concurred that authorities must allow transport operators with roadworthy vehicles and proper documentation to operate.
“The government should not force commuter omnibuses to work under ZUPCO, instead must empower them. Authorities must also allocate fuel for them so that when they resume business, they have a starting point,” he said.
Cllr Mabutho warned that due to desperation, driver and conductors out of work would resort to crime as an alternative.
“The government should look at this issue seriously and allow transport operators to operate on their own, not under ZUPCO. The commuter omnibuses can carry 10 to 12 passengers to
observe social distancing,” he said.
Cabinet has now said ZUPCO can carry more people, a move which critics said defeated social distancing protocol that the same government was promoting.
Cllr Silas Chigora noted that with proper fiscal support, transport operators would also be able to buy their buses.
“Those who will engage government must recommend that kombis can be advised to buy buses that the government wants to see. Otherwise, the government would be accused of squashing competition in a competitive sector,” he said.
“I also calculated how much ZUPCO makes and learnt that a bus with 30 passengers paying ZWL$2 made ZWL$60 for one trip, which is unsustainable if you look at cost of fuel and other expenses. This means citizens are heavily subsidizing ZUPCO yet those funds could be used for other projects.”
Last Friday, Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, July Moyo, who is also a member of the National Taskforce responsible for Bulawayo, said security had briefed him that there were now too many people in the city centre resulting in transportation challenges.
He said the taskforce was going to meet with ZUPCO and city council officials to plan forward.
“The planning will also consider vending and include planners from the department of physical planning so that we look at both transportation in relationship to vending and that is key. The security people will be in there so that they also point to us, the areas of difficulty in controlling the people either at bus termini, vending places or at normal stalls.
“We need to discuss this and come up with a strategy. These are solutions that can come from here and be implemented without recommendations going upwards and that’s what we want to do,” Moyo said.