Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
ILLEGAL taxi operators are back on the streets of Bulawayo, taking advantage of reduced police roadblocks to ferry desperate commuters facing transport challenges.
Only Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) buses and kombis are allowed to transport commuters during the indefinitely-extended lockdown level two.
However, Zupco is struggling to cope with the numbers as more economic sectors were allowed to operate.
Announcing the extension of the lockdown on Saturday, President Mnangagwa said commuter omnibuses/combis, unregistered taxis (mushikashika) also remain banned.
However, a Chronicle news crew observed that pirate taxis are back on the street and their vehicles are not disinfected, social distancing is not being observed and passengers are not sanitized as they board the taxis.
Pirate taxi operators are charging fares between $7 and $10 while Zupco bus fares are pegged at $2 and kombis at $4.
When President Mnangagwa announced the national lockdown that took effect on March 30, pirate taxi operators complied with lockdown regulations as police enforced the regulations.
Cops were impounding vehicles whose owners were violating the law.
But the reduced number of police roadblocks has seen pirate taxis making a comeback. They have reclaimed their pickup points along 6th Avenue Extension and 11th Avenue and Fort Street among others.
A taxi operator who spoke on condition of anonymity said the economic situation was pushing him out of his home.
“I am a family man and it has been hard being at home when I can’t provide for my family. I’m fully aware of the dangers posed by Covid-19. It is not just threatening the passengers that I’m ferrying but I’m also at risk of contracting the disease. But I have a responsibility to fend for my family. It has been very hard for us in the past two months. I have rentals to pay, hunger is causing tension in my home,” he said.
A Gwabalanda resident Mr Mbuso Nyathi said the only way Government can effectively deal with pirate taxis is to equip Zupco with enough buses.
He said some of them were spending close to two hours waiting for Zupco buses especially during the peak hours.
“While Zupco buses are not crowded, we would be crowded while queuing to get into them. To end this problem Government should just increase the Zupco fleet. Otherwise we will be forced to board these pirate taxis. We don’t want them but it’s already winter and it’s better to be home early than getting home when it’s already dark and risk being mugged,” he said.
Government is working towards remodeling of the urban transport system to meet global trends and deal with disorder associated with private taxi operators.
Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube yesterday said lockdown regulations have not changed and police will arrest pirate taxi operators found to be violating the law.
Insp Ncube said more than 100 pirate taxi operators have been arrested and their vehicles impounded since last month.
“We are still on lockdown as was announced by our national leaders. This means that anyone who is supposed to stay at home should remain at home as they have not been exempted. This applies to pirate taxi operators that are seemingly getting back to the streets.
“They were operating illegally before the national lockdown and are still operating illegally. Therefore, police would want to warn them that anyone found on the wrong side of the law will be arrested,” said Insp Ncube.
He urged people to be responsible saying the presence of the pirate taxis is aided by commuters.
“We have observed that members of the public seem to be encouraging these pirate taxis to be back on the streets. Instead of waiting for transport at designated pickup points they have flooded major roads leading to suburbs waiting to board unregistered taxi operators’ vehicles,” he said.
“If we arrest a pirate taxi operator, a commuter in the same vehicle will be charged for being an accomplice to the crime. So, we urge members of the public to abide by the laws of the country and complement authorities as we fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Residents should not just comply with regulations for police and other security forces but to protect their lives.” @nqotshili