PRIVATE bus companies are on the verge of pulling out of the Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (Zupco) deal citing gross manipulation by the state enterprise, a move that can potentially ground the public transport sector.
Government last year opened the Zupco franchise to commuter omnibus operators and private players surrendered their fleets to it. The move was meant to address mass transportation woes amid Covid-19 lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus.
Transporters under the embattled Zupco were paid a fortnightly commission but the State-owned entity — as was expected — is defaulting.
Bus operators lambasted the parastatal for failing to manage the transport system which has all but crumbled.
They also accused Zupco bosses of splashing money on personal luxury and modernising depots while the bus operators went unpaid for long periods.
One operator who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said his three invoices were unpaid.
The operator also said Zupco was demanding astronomic daily targets, resulting in increased cases of speeding and reckless driving. The chaos comes amid a sharp increase in bus fares and introduction of US dollar fares, angering commuters who earn wages in the weak Zimbabwean dollar.
“Zupco is now operating on a profit-making basis and not on safety of passengers. My drivers are complaining that they are being given high targets which are not achievable. They end up speeding; l don’t think the government is even aware of that,” the operator said.
“The buses have been reduced in this lockdown and people are being packed in the buses. How then can we contain Covid-19? Zupco buses might be super spreaders.
“This is being worsened by the fact that they have developed a habit of not paying us on time. Already we have three invoices which have not been paid stretching as far back as the end of December — itself a violation of standing agreements. The situation is not good at all and operators are thinking it’s better to pull out of the deal.” The operator claimed they were supposed to be paid fortnightly.
“We now have instances where our buses have broken down and have been parked. It means we are not realising any value. They are parked at Zupco premises. We want them to give us back our buses so that we can hire them out to other essential services in the private sector but they are refusing,” he said.
A Mutare based operator, who also refused to be named accused businessman and prominent bus operator Esau Mupfumi of defending the government and Zupco.
“Esau Mupfumi is a good leader and has been doing well. Our problem with him is that he is defending the government when we threaten to take action,” he said
Last year, conventional buses under the Zupco franchise went on a go-slow over non-payment of dues, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. Mupfumi, who is the national coordinator between the government and operators, said they had engaged authorities to address payment delays.
“We have already engaged Zupco board chair engineer Quinton Kanhukamwe and Zupco chief executive officer Evaristo Mudangwe. It appears there are arrears from government to Zupco,” he said.
Kanhukamwe confirmed they owed operators.
“It’s normal to owe them at the beginning of the year but we will definitely clear these arrears,” he said.
He directed operational questions to Mudangwe, who initially said he was busy driving. He promised to communicate but did not honour his promise.
Subsequent calls and questions sent via SMS went unanswered. Zupco, just like many other parastatals, is poorly run and has seen years of endemic corruption and gross mismanagement and sheer incompetence.