Freeman Razemba and Thupeyo Muleya
Public transport continues to grow with the latest batch of 50 new Golden Dragon buses from China passing through Beitbridge at the weekend to join the Zupco fleet and the new train service linking central Harare with Mufakose and Budiriro at peak hours getting into its stride with a growing number of regular passengers.
Over the last 12 months, Government has imported more than 400 buses from China, not only boosting the Zupco fleet, but starting the process of standardising models easing maintenance and allowing good stocks of spares.
The new buses are shipped like the previous batches to Durban. They crossed the Limpopo on Sunday and Monday morning and were cleared through customs in batches of 10 to avoid congesting the border post.
The actual cost of each bus could not be readily verified, but Golden Dragons sell for just over the equivalent of US$50 000 each in China. The commercial deal for the buses was set up by President Mnangagwa on visits to China.
Zupco acting chief executive officer Mr Everisto Madangwa said he will give more details regarding the import later when the buses arrive in Harare.
It is understood that more than 1 000 buses have been acquired from China and Belarus and they are being delivered to the country in batches of between 50 and 100 buses.
The Government has since reaffirmed its commitment to ease transport challenges by availing reliable and affordable transport to the people in line with Vision 2030.
A few days ago Zupco entered into a deal with the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) to ease transport problems in major urban areas starting with Bulawayo and Harare.
The first service, that between the city centre and the main heavy industrial area and the huge suburbs of Mufakose and Budiriro, started on Tuesday afternoon as an integrated train and bus service. Using a single $60 ticket commuters use buses to get to the railway line then take the train to town and on the return trip use the train and the feeder buses, again on a single ticket.
It is expected that the integration of bus and train services on single tickets will avoid the many problems that earlier commuter trains saw.
The City-Ruwa and City-Tynwald services in Harare start soon and the scheme is being rolled out to Bulawayo.
The three Harare services will add the equivalent in passenger capacity of more than 50 long buses, helping to boost the public transport system as well as given commuters from the served suburbs a faster and more comfortable ride.
Yesterday afternoon the new service worked well with more passengers and more now knowing exactly how it operated. It took exactly 45 minutes for passengers to arrive in Mufakose from the city centre.
Most of the passengers aboard the train described it as affordable and reliable.
Among the passengers was Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Mr Nick Mangwana and other Government officials who also talked to the passengers.
The train left Harare station at 5.30pm, convenient for many now that business hours have been restored to normal, before arriving in Mufakose around 6.15pm, although some passengers were dropped off along the way.
The train stopped at Lever Brothers, Lonchivar and Kambuzuma dropping off passengers at the stations where Zupco buses were waiting to take them to their final destinations.
Before boarding the train the passengers had their hands sanitised with security staff making sure that they were wearing their masks in line with the Covid-19 regulations.
Each passenger was then made to pay $40 for the trip by Zupco conductors who were manning the platform access gates or on the door to gain access to the train. This is lower than the advertised $60 fare.
NRZ security staff then moved around the train urging people not to disembark while it was in motion as it was dangerous and could cost one’s life.
One of the passengers, Mrs Zvikomborero Nyanzira of Budiriro 5B said it was her first time to board the train and applauded Government for bringing back the commuter trains.
“This is a good move by the Government because these trains save time and they are cheap and reliable at the same time. During the journey you don’t experience any traffic congestion and harassment from the touts who have now resurfaced and are playing hide and seek with the police,” she said.
Another passenger, Mr Simbarashe Semba of Mufakose said Government had done so well as this would get rid of mushikashika.
“With these trains, all you need to do is just buy your ticket and then get a seat. You can sit anyway you want without any hustles. They are also no long winding queues that most people experience at some of the bus terminuses in the city waiting for transport,” he said.
Passengers are already suggesting improvements. One who identified herself as Mai Gamu from Budiriro urged the relevant authorities to ensure that they put adequate lighting inside
She said Government should avail more trains and reliable transport to other areas to cater for the people.
In an interview, Mr Mangwana said Government is concerned about the lives of the urban dwellers and it had done a lot to improve their lives besides alleviating transport problems, including improving lighting systems, traffic system, the water system and the rehabilitation of the road network, among others.
He said the new commuter trains would alleviate transport problems being faced by the people.
“I have used a number of metropolitan railway lines and trains in my very short life and this matches any that we have used in terms of comfort, keeping to the timetable and the lack of rowdiness on the train.
“Actually in some metropolitan cities you feel unsafe because there will be drunk people who will be very rowdy to make you feel uncomfortable but in this one we were seated decently with people having conversations. Women felt settled and nobody was being molested and even when it got a bit darker, it was still ok,” he said.
He added: “Yes the carriages are a bit older. There are some touch ups that are needed and there is no question about that. We will need lighting in there and as you can see it’s a little bit darker and people will be safer if there is lighting but it’s the safest mode of travel.
“We also got here on time. We didn’t run into traffic. We were not gridlocked somewhere, which you will get when you are driving. Yes Government has taken this country in the right direction on this one.”
He assured the public that the whole system was going to be modernised but at the same time urged people to help stop vandalism and help look after the assets so more money was spent on improvements and expansion and less on replacing damaged equipment and avoidable repairs.
The new Harare commuter train services started on Tuesday afternoon on the Mufakose route with those trying it out given a free test ride.
The Ruwa route is expected to start today and the third service, the Tynwald route, is expected to start Monday next week.
The trains have 10 coaches each and a carrying capacity of 100 passengers per coach. So each train can carry more than 15 bus loads of passengers.