Banned kombis are now openly driving into bus terminuses in Harare and its dormitory towns, competing for passengers with Zupco buses and kombis, while police and local authorities turn a blind eye.
The banned kombis are also affixing metal screens to windows and windscreens, while others are replacing the windows with wooden boards.
Illegal kombis on the Msasa, Epworth and Mabvuku-Tafara routes were yesterday offloading passengers at Simon Muzenda Terminus (formerly Fourth Street).
On Monday around noon it was even worse in Chitungwiza at Makoni Shopping Centre, the town’s busiest, where the banned kombis outnumbered the permitted Zupco kombis.
Police were seen trying to restore order, engaging in high speed cat-and-mouse chases with the illegal kombis.
But some unregistered kombis were unmoved and one of the drivers who preferred anonymity said they pay kickbacks to traffic police officers.
“We just pay US$2 for the traffic police to allow us to load passengers here. We ply Makoni-Machipisa route and to us US$2 is paltry compared to our profits,” said the driver. The pirate kombis charge US$1 per individual or equivalent in local currency on the Machapisa route
In terms of Covid-19 regulations, only buses owned or contracted by Zupco are allowed to operate.
Unlike the Zupco kombi fleet, which is largely built from private operators who have accepted Zupco contracts and rules, passengers on the private kombis are also at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 as the mandatory prevention measures are ignored.
When boarding the kombis, passengers are not sanitised and are not required to wear face masks.
Elsewhere, police and council officials seem to be overpowered by the rowdy kombi operators.
At ZBC traffic lights in Mbare along Simon Mazorodze Road, kombis plying routes to Glen View, Highfield and Budiriro always operating “freely”.
In a recent interview, police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said operators of commuter omnibuses or private vehicles ferrying passengers illegally on city and inter-city routes risked having them impounded.
He said police officers accepting bribes from defiant transporters will be flushed out of the police service.
“The police are aware that some vehicle owners and drivers have removed number plates, with some putting wooden boards or other materials on windows in order to evade arrest,” he said.
“This will not be tolerated and the law will be applied.”
Asst Comm Nyathi said more officers had since been deployed to ensure those who broke the law were arrested.
He said since the beginning of the national lockdown, a total of 224 037 people have been arrested for flouting regulations, while 21 180 vehicles were impounded for pirating and putting the lives of the public at risk.