STARING into space at the Bulawayo City Hall is a man probably in his early 70s.
Dressed in a huge brown coat which seems to have been white in its newer days, with hands folded on his chest, the senior citizen has no idea how he’s going to get to his son’s home in Mahatshula.
Positioned on a bench on a freezing July morning, the cold metal does not seem to affect the grey bearded man.
He sits on the benches for a while before deciding to go and try his luck on the Zupco conductor. With some notes in his wrinkled hands, he shuffles towards the bus.
The old man has $30 yet the bus fare is $60. The conductor politely tells the old man that his money is not enough.
Shoulders bowed in apparent submission, he ambles back to his unsympathetically cold bench.
After some time, a speeding pirate/non-Zupco kombi screeches to a stop mid-road and commuters scramble into it. The old man again folds the notes in his hands and makes his way to the kombi.
The conductor, who barely gives the old man attention as he continuously checks for police and council patrols, roughly tells him to get in, again at high speed the kombi shoots off.
Hopefully, the old man reached his destination.
Like hundreds of other commuters, the recent 100 percent fare hike, later reversed, had caught him unawares.
It had circulated as a rumour on social media and had become a nightmare for those who disregarded it, thinking it was yet another internet spoof.
For a public transporter, Zupco should have communicated better.
Most information reaches commuters through the grapevine or like a splash of cold water on the face in inclement weather, residents get a rude awakening when they suddenly discover fares have gone up and they do not have enough money to get to work or go home.
The Covid-19 outbreak forced the Government to come up with different measures to contain the spread of the pandemic. One of them was the ban of private-owned commuter omnibuses.
The effect of the initial national lockdown introduced on March 30 last year saw private kombi owners parking their vehicles, which meant that Zupco became the only legal public transport.
The ban of private kombis according to the Minister of Local Government July Moyo is meant to also bring sanity to the city roads as private kombis had become a menace in defying road traffic rules.
The re-introduction of the public commuter was also targeted at providing affordable, safe and reliable transport for urban commuters.
As a result, the Government made efforts to re-introduce the franchise at a sustainable fare which many could afford and therefore gained applause from the public.
However, Zupco recently reviewed their fares by 100 percent, a move that saw commuters moving over to illegal transporters citing exorbitant pricing by the public transporter.
Many commuters including senior citizens were left stranded as they had not prepared for the fare hike. They risked their lives boarding pirate kombis which are always on a cat and mouse chase with the police.
Some were dumped at undesignated places and they had to walk to their respective destinations. Commuters bewailed the short notice they were subjected to and called for formal ways of communication from Zupco.
Following a public outcry the public transporter reduced fares yet again bringing smiles to many.
Commuters shared with Chronicle their experiences when Zupco hiked fares.
“We had to board non-Zupco kombis not because we wanted to but because we have little to spend on transport. At the same time, these kombis are cheaper but they are not safe for us. Their speed is too high, you are never at ease whenever you are in it. However, there is nothing that we could do. We had become victims of circumstances. I’m happy that Zupco heard our pleas. Now we won’t have to risk our lives,” said Mrs Mahle Mathe of Emakhandeni suburb.
Mr Ayanda Mkhwananzi of Entumbane said he was happy that the fares were reduced.
“With the emergence of Covid-19 which has changed most of our lives, it was inconsiderate of Zupco to hike fares higher than those of illegal transporters. People are going through a lot at a time of this pandemic. I lost my job when the company that I worked for was forced to release some of its employees due to the reduction in sales, so it’s a hard time for me that with the little that I have spending it on transport alone would have been a huge loss. I’m quite relieved that prices have been reduced, it shows that our plight is considered,” said Mr Mkwananzi.
Mr Godfrey Siziba said they were dumped three kilometres before their destination when police ran after the kombi he was boarding.
“I boarded a non-Zupco kombi last week and when we were along Harare Road a police car pursued us. The kombi driver had to drive away through Parklands suburb. It was a traumatising experience because the speed at which the driver was moving was too high.
“We asked that he drops us but he kept on speeding until we were finally dumped near King George VI and we had to finish on foot. Now that Zupco fares have been reduced I’m grateful that we won’t have to compromise our lives for a cheap transport,” said Mr Siziba.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association Executive Secretary for Transport Mrs Teresia Nyathi said the fare increase came at a bad time.
“First the timing on the increase of fares was highly uncalled for as the country is on lockdown and no wage increase for both government workers and industry. The informal sector has been badly affected too. This causes a lot of concern to residents most of whom are not employed. The situation on the ground shows that people are badly affected financially. We used to see long queues at Zupco pick-up points but since the 100 percent increase the residents were avoiding the buses and opted to use other means at the same time risking their lives to this pandemic,” said Mrs Nyathi. — @SeehYvonne