Source: Editorial Comment: Christmas cheer for travellers | The Herald December 4, 2019
There will be a collective sigh of relief for travellers following Government’s decision to provide affordable transport during the festive season.
While Zimbabweans enjoy travelling during holidays such as Christmas, New Year and Heroes’ and Defence Forces Days’, of concern has been the growing trend among bus operators to hike fares over such periods, further burdening travellers.
On the one occasion that families gather and celebrate having made it through a difficult 2019 and welcome the New Year, some fail to travel because bus operators are in the habit of increasing fares at the start of the holiday break.
The current trend is that on major holidays like Christmas, New Year, Independence and Heroes’ Day, passengers wake up to find fares have doubled. It is a culture that simply has to stop because it is hard to justify and therefore unacceptable.
There are occasions when families have either scaled down the number of members who can travel or failed altogether to travel because fares have gone up between leaving home and the time of boarding.
Current conditions are hard for the majority of people who have to grapple with preparing fees for their school-going children, while managing what promises to be a difficult season.
It is the greed of public transport operators that has led the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to bring rural and urban long-distance buses under the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) in the interests of the travelling public.
Aware of the plight of the majority of travellers, the Government last week promised additional Zupco buses during the festive season.
In announcing the new travel arrangements over the festive holidays, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development said it was sensitive to the plight of passengers and, to this end, it was acquiring new buses for rural and urban routes.
Progress in the implementation of such an arrangement has already been witnessed in Bulawayo and Matabeleland South provinces, with the aim being to provide reliable, safe and uninterrupted commuter service during the festive season.
The move has two advantages — affordability and safer transport. The tendency during busy holidays has been for transport companies to compete for business and at times this has taken the form of speeding in order to pick up passengers at the next bus stop, or the competition has simply been to undertake as many trips to and from in order to maximise revenue generation.
Under such competitive conditions, the safety and welfare of travellers is relegated to the back seat. The result has been accidents that blight the holiday period.
With less vying among buses on the country’s roads, it is the expectation that motorists will exercise care while on the roads and ensure that the country records lower fatalities and injuries on the roads.
The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development could go further in alleviating the plight of the travelling public by ensuring that the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is part of the effort to take families to their various destinations during the festive holidays.
Up to the mid-1980s, trains carried the bulk of travellers across the country.
There were several pull factors — affordability, safety and timeliness. But then, a combination of factors set in — the NRZ became unreliable, it was dogged by a string of horrendous accidents, and finally it seemed to lose the plot.
All these factors resulted in inordinate delays while care and maintenance went out through the window.
That was a sad moment and a turning point in the fortunes of the NRZ.
Travellers then took to kombis and buses. And yet an efficient and reliable train service can remove a lot of the public passenger transport on the country’s roads, consequently translating to fewer accident statistics.
After the festive season, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development can do urban commuters a big favour and service by turning its attention to ensuring that NRZ resumes the provision of transport services for urban commuters, popularly referred to as “Freedom Trains”
In other countries, it is evident how beneficial such a service has been to commuters.
South Africa is an example closer to home, where the Gauntrain moves hundreds of commuters daily on time, removing the need for people to drive to and from work or their destinations.
There is no reason why commuters from Norton, Nyabira, Marondera, Ruwa and Mabvuku should be using buses if there is an efficient and reliable train service as an alternative mode of transport.
The ministry could make the revival of commuter trains, part of its “100-day” programme under the next (fifth) cycle.