Local government minister July Moyo has threatened to unleash the army to deal with illegal transport operators who continuously violate Covid-19 regulations.
Under the Covid-19 regulations, ZUPCO is the only public transport provider permitted on the roads but due to lack of capacity, illegal transport operators have taken advantage of the situation to return to the road.
Moyo issued the veiled threat while chairing the Bulawayo Provincial Task Force Committee on Covid-19 meeting held in the city Tuesday which was attended by various sub-committees.
The minister said police should be ‘ruthless’ on pirate taxis and if the security forces lack adequate personnel, they can call the army for backup, as the law allows them to.
Authorities blame the rise in Covid-19 cases on illegal private transporters.
“The transport system is a cause of concern, as we have seen an increase in illegal transportation and overloading that speaks to ZUPCO’s lack of capacity and desperate commuters but some of these transport providers are expensive and no sanitisation takes place,” said Paul Nyoni, Bulawayo Provincial Development Coordinator.
Minister Moyo then urged police to enforce order and deal with the private transporters.
“I would like to talk to you (police) before I leave because this is very important. If we don’t enforce it, people will relax. If there are difficulties, it is better to know them but that does not mean we allow non-public transport to take place,” he said.
The minister noted the government had crafted a public transport policy before Covid-19 struck to maintain order on roads.
“We started to say only ZUPCO will be the public transporter in all urban areas when there was no Covid-19. In fact, if we had not done that then Covid-19 came, we would, in my view have a worse situation so the enforcement of public transport is important,” he said,’
“That’s why we said to the police, if you don’t have enough personnel, the city operates under your license. The municipal police are in your direct command and operate under your act. When it comes to public order, municipal police don’t operate under the Urban Councils Act but are to operate and your direct command. I say this now and have said it in front of council officials.”
Moyo urged the police to act decisively on the situation.
“Anybody who doesn’t follow that, you become ruthless because it should be one command,” said the minister who argued the law was supreme and had to be followed.
Moyo added that the government had come up with the strict regulations to save lives.
He also repeated that all transport providers must enlist under ZUPCO to operate.
“We are not denying them any livelihood. All we are saying is to be registered you must have compliance as a public service vehicle. If they don’t register and still do plying of routes, it means they are a danger to people,” Moyo said.
“If you don’t comply with public transportation systems, you should be taken out of the road. If compliant and you are a true businessperson why don’t you surrender? Your driver is yours, the car remains yours, we pay you as you sit at home. You have no management problems. This is a great subsidy for our people, a win-win and you as an individual with a business still make your money -we give you the money. So what makes you not do it? It can only be that you are not compliant and if not, police must take action.”
On behalf of the transport subcommittee of the provincial Covid-19 taskforce, Raymond Nyandoro claimed ZUPCO was capable of transporting everyone in the city and accused private transporters of disrupting Bulawayo’s transport network.
“We have set up routes for mass transportation of ZUPCO. If you look at the eastern suburbs, the main terminus is city hall. Western suburbs have Lobengula Street and the smaller terminus but these people are now coming in to disturb that setup,” he said.
“As a committee, our plea, if we can clear those people I can assure you we can safely transport people in the city if we get rid of those other actors. I’m sure we can transport people safely because there’s sanitisation, which is not there on private transporters..”
Nyandoro said on a daily basis, ZUPCO dispatched 150 buses and 130 kombis while the Public Service Commission released 10 to 11 buses a day.
“In our view as a committee, we feel these numbers are adequate. The government is beefing up the ZUPCO fleet and we appreciate the numbers are now challenged by the illegal operators as highlighted. They are becoming slippery of late finding their way into the city disturbing the arrangements that we have made in the city,” he said.