“Naturally, when you get into a Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) bus, safety, with regards to the fitness of the vehicle, should be the least of your worries. We are made to believe the buses undergo rigorous testing before they are released on the roads,” reckons Takunda Mupara from Chiredzi.
However, there have been growing concerns over the number of Zupco buses that have been involved in accidents over recent months. And most of the accidents, which often involve franchised vehicles, are being attributed to mechanical faults.
“Since the start of the year, we have had 70 accidents. However, 95 percent of them were not fatal,” she said.
“Just like any other company which operates a huge fleet, there is bound to be mechanical faults and accidents which may develop along the way,” said Zupco marketing and public relations officer Ms Sikhanyisiwe Ncube.
“We conduct periodical vetting using a checklist to ensure that the buses are safe to ferry passengers. During off-peak times like weekends, part of the fleet is released for servicing.”
Zupco took on board private commuter omnibuses (kombis) and conventional buses after Government announced an indefinite ban on private operators on May 16. The intervention is supposed to create an orderly mass public transport system. Only Zupco buses and those operating under its franchise are allowed to operate. The parastatal presently operates 831 buses and 896 commuter omnibuses under its franchise countrywide.
However, they are fears some of the franchised buses are now compromising the quality of service that is synonymous with transport company. While some private operators are conveniently using Zupco stickers to continue operating, investigations indicated that some of the unfit vehicles were part of the parastatal’s fleet. What has been most worrying is how some of the visibly unroadworthy vehicles are joining the fleet.
Commuters want the public transport company to urgently deal with the matter.
“The company needs to re-look at their safety mechanism and employ proper measures to safeguard passengers. They also need to hire adequate and experienced drivers to avert accidents,” said Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) president Mr Tafadzwa Goliati.
There have been growing suspicions some of the buses are being corruptly cleared even after failing routine tests. This claim is, however, disputed by Government agencies responsible for certifying the vehicles.
Vehicle Inspection Department (VID) director Dr Joseph Pedzapasi referred questions to the parent Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development. But Central Mechanical and Equipment Department (CMED) general manager Engineer Davison Mhaka rubbished the corruption claims.
“We only do fitness tests for Zupco buses, so there is no need of any immunity,” he said.
“VID does the bi-annual certificate on fitness and when the bus is engaged by Zupco, CMED will certify if the buses are roadworthy without prejudice.”
Recently, a Zupco bus that ferries Sally Mugabe General Hospital staff was involved in a serious accident in Rugare suburbs in Harare, leaving many injured. Barely a week after the accident, a garage-bound Zupco bus belonging to Trip Trans veered off the road and hit vendors who were selling their wares by the roadside and eight cars at Mupedzanhamo Market in Mbare. During the same week, a Zupco bus suddenly lost control, got off its lane and hit a woman who was standing by the pavement in the central business district (CBD).
Sadly, the driver is alleged to have continued with his journey as if nothing had happened.
Also, at least 27 people were injured early this year after a Zupco bus they were travelling in veered off the road and landed on its side in Beatrice along the Harare-Masvingo highway. Further, seven people perished in Kwekwe, Kadoma and along Chiremba Road in Harare in accidents involving Zupco buses.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) attributes most of the accidents to human error and speeding. Government is in the process of acquiring brand new Zupco buses to boost its fleet. Fifty buses arrived from China early this month. But Zupco is also still accepting private operators that want to operate under its franchise, but they have to meet certain requirements, among them a letter of intention, certificate of fitness from CMED and vehicle insurance. The driver is expected to have a valid retest licence, a medical certificate, defensive driving certificate and Government Authority.