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ZUPCO to get 50 buses as govt scrambles to prop up its monopoly

ZUPCO buses

The government has been on the back foot when it comes to public transport over the last two decades. Few remember the days when the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) was a viable means of getting from point A to B simply because the state-run company doesn’t have enough buses.

This brought about the rise of private-run commuter omnibuses (kombis) and later pirate private vehicles that garnered the monicker “Mushikashika“. The two were by no means perfect but were a demonstration of people seeing a need and filling it.

In the typical tone-deaf manner, our government responded to the market finding its own solutions by banning the former (unless they run under its ZUPCO banner). And the latter, as we saw last week, now has a penalty of a ZWL$2000 fine for people who board Mushikashikas. In saying that there has been an appeal by The Human Rights NGO Forum filed to court to try and overturn the decision to fine commuters if they should be found onboard a Mushikashika.

The success of the court application is yet to be known but there is no argument that both moves have made it infinitely harder to get transport. This is made worse by the COVID-19 curfew that has persisted. Zimbabwean commuters now have to worry about the curfew as well as if they are going to get transport to get home.

All of this is being done, as my colleague said when the story broke, with no immediate alternative for the people. As earlier mentioned ZUPCO doesn’t have enough buses and the manpower to become what it was back in the 80s and early 90s.

The monopoly is getting new equipment…

ZUPCO is getting more buses according to a report by the Sunday Mail. The first consignment of 50 is apparently on its way from Durban, South Africa and will soon be at the border. Of that delivery, 15 will be deployed in Harare, 11 in Bulawayo and the rest distributed among other towns across the country. At present, ZUPCO has 262 buses that it owns while the rest of its “fleet” is comprised of commuter omnibuses that were co-opted by the company/govt

The government aims to have 667 more buses by years end. The report by the Sunday Mail goes on to say that the govt will purchase 1500 buses in the long run for ZUPCO.

At this point, anyone born in the new millennium would be forgiven for thinking that the authorities never forecasted the population growth and the infrastructure available to see that whatever existed way back when would be severely insufficient for what the reality is now.

Are 1500 buses even enough?

That number doesn’t look anywhere near enough, especially for the large metropolitan areas. Now, the things we have to factor in are the sizes and seating capacity of the buses that the govt is bringing in which weren’t mentioned in the report by the Sunday Mail.

The buses were said to be coming from China, so we can assume that they could be the usual Yutong 56 seater vehicles. However, looking at the number of routes for Harare alone, there is likely going to be a transport issue even when all 1500 arrive (if ever).

In addition, Zimbabwe doesn’t have tram/suburban rail or trolleybuses as alternatives to offset the demand. These would have helped in meeting the need as well as easing the congestion on the roads. For Zimbabawe to truly step into the present, the govt needs to begin to think outside the box when it comes to public transport.

One measure in this direction should be enacting reasonable regulations where independent operators are concerned. ZUPCO can’t be the be all and end all of public transport and more than that it needs the competition. Not only to force it to be better but to give those who might not want to work for it or commute on it, a different path.

Check out the Advanced Public Transport’s Urban Public Transport in the 21st Century Report

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