The Government and private commuter omnibus operators are this week expected to hold crunch talks as the latter angle for a return to intra-city operations after a six-month ban.
The discussions come in the wake of the gradual easing of lockdown restriction, which has increased demand for transport. To smoothen liaison with authorities and better regulate the transport sector, kombi operators intend to create an umbrella association.
Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo told The Sunday Mail that Government was crafting a public transport plan.
“We remain committed to the urban transport system and for now we want to remain with one transport system,” Minister Moyo said. “We have a transport plan for urban commuters that we will soon unveil.”
Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators secretary-general Ngoni Katsvairo said engagement with Government was necessary as transport challenges continue to plague commuters.
“We wrote a letter in June to Zupco and Local Government (and Public Works). However, we were advised to wait until lockdown regulations had been relaxed,” he said.
“We have written again to the authorities for engagement and we are hoping to meet next week (this week) for talks. Government has allowed resumption of intercity travel and the measures are only favourable to those with big companies, and not kombis.
“The meeting will be about how kombis can ply in urban areas as well as intercity going forward. The meeting will also look at how kombis can be allowed to join associations of their choice going forward.”
Kombis have been barred from operating since the lockdown started on March 30.
Only those contracted under the Zupco franchise are allowed to operate.
However, the relaxation of some lockdown regulations has seen most parts of the economy opening up, causing a marked increase in the number of daily commuters.
Government recently approved the resumption of activities in the tourism and aviation sector, including the reopening of both private and public schools.
Business hours were also extended.
Zupco is currently operating with 507 conventional buses and 500 commuter omnibuses, and is trying to conscript additional kombis.
Passengers Association of Zimbabwe president Mr Tafadzwa Goliati said with the opening up of various economic sectors, passengers have increased, thus the need to increase buses.
“The economy is opening up and transport is an integral part of the economy. There is need for adequate transport for everyone,” he said.
“Soon schools and other sectors of the economy will be reopening and some buses which are under Zupco will return to rural areas or highway routes, so there is need to increase transport operators. “Monopoly in a country like Zimbabwe will only create illegal taxis, and there is a need for the Government to rectify the issue.
“However, going forward I think there is need for kombis to form associations. Take Bulawayo, for instance, the kombis are effective and organised and they are easy to manage.”
Urban planning expert Dr Percy Toriro said it was time for authorities to bring in other transport players since the economy was now opening up.
“The pandemic has given the authorities time to relook at the public transport system in the country, and there has been an element of order due to the restrictions,” he said.
“However, it is clear that Zupco alone is not able to accommodate and cater for every passenger, especially now that the restrictions are being relaxed. It is important that other players be brought in, in an organised and orderly manner that will bring forth better efficiencies.
“For commuter operators, especially in Harare, the pandemic has also taught them the importance of being organised and having a voice that speaks for them. They have lost big business because of being unorganised. For those in Harare, they should take a leaf from their Bulawayo counterparts who are organised.”
Authorities intended to take advantage of the low numbers of urban commuters during the lockdown to revamp and modernise the urban mass public transport system through deploying high-volume buses.
Government sees the provision of subsidised transport as a critical non-financial incentive for those needing transport.
The Zupco franchise is also seen as a way of bringing the previously wayward kombi owners into a controlled and managed system.