THE going has become tough for pirate kombis in Bulawayo who are losing business to Zupco buses and kombis.
Despite frantic efforts by pirate kombis to evade the police, cops always seem to be a step ahead making it almost impossible for them to ferry passengers to the city centre.
For suburbs which are far from the city centre like Cowdray Park and Emganwini, people there are now relying on Zupco buses only as the kombis do not reach their area.
Commuters have been left with no other option but to turn to a more reliable mode of transport which is Zupco buses and kombis.
Government directed that all public transport operators that want to provide urban transport should be registered under the Zupco franchise.
For the past three weeks, pirate taxis have been struggling to operate because of heavy police presence at roadblocks. They resorted to blocking Zupco buses and kombis last week.
A pirate kombi operator Mr Mandlenkosi Khumalo who plies the city centre- Cowdray Park route said their efforts to get commuters into the city centre were now fruitless.
“The police are now blocking every route that we try to use. At first, we knew that they only blocked the Luveve Road route and we started using the Richmond route but they have also blocked it now. Even if we try to use the Khami Road route the road will also be blocked. At one point we started using a route that passes through a bushy area in Entumbane Suburb but then they started blocking the route as well,” he said.
“It’s now difficult to get passengers to town and we are losing customers because people now prefer to board Zupco buses. Sometimes even if we find people standing at the bus stops, they refuse to board our taxis saying we won’t get them to town. It’s funny how things change because at one point we were the only public transport people had but now they are shunning us. I don’t know if we will ever recover from this situation or it’s our demise.”
Another pirate kombi operator, Mr Alfred Nkomo, said they were now forced to inflate fares in order to cover up the losses they incurred.
He said business was now low and they were forced to use more fuel trying to evade police roadblocks.
Mr Nkomo said they were sometimes charging commuters $100 instead of the usual $50 or $60. He said the situation becomes better in the evening when the police have dismissed.
“We don’t have an option but to increase our fares because business is low. We also have to use a lot of fuel diverting from our usual route in a bid to evade police roadblocks. Instead of leaving Cowdray Park, pass through Emakhandeni and join Luveve Road and proceed to town I sometimes have to going via Khami Road and if the road is blocked there I have to come back and try the Richmond route. Our route is now unpredictable and we use a lot of fuel.
“The situation is better late afternoon into the evening because the police would have dismissed from some of their roadblocks. Even a lot of passengers board our vehicles because they know that we can get them home,” he said.
Another pirate kombi operator who plies the CBD-Magwegwe West route, who only identified himself as Sibanda, said some passengers still board their vehicles if they are in a hurry. He said registering with Zupco was not an option for him as the earnings would be way lower than what he was getting.
A commuter, Ms Violet Mhlanga, said she had vowed to never board a pirate kombi after one dropped her off in Richmond. She said she would rather queue for a bus than put her life at risk.
“I think at the moment Zupco buses and kombis are a better option for transport. At first, I used to insist on boarding pirate kombis because kombis are generally faster than buses. The pirate taxis used to drop us off near Mckeurtan Primary School but I would not mind as my workplace is close by. I vowed to never board a pirate kombi again when one day it dropped us off in Richmond when the driver came across a roadblock. I struggled to get transport from there.
“The challenge we have in our area is that we have a few Zupco kombis, but if we can have more of them it could be better. Sometimes a bus is of great inconvenience if you are in a hurry,” she said.
Mr Shepherd Moyo from Emganwini said if pirate kombis were not going to be able to transport people then they should withdraw their services. He said instead of fighting law enforcement agents they had to just register their vehicles under Zupco because the situation was affecting commuters.
“This transport situation has to be rectified once and for all because as commuters we are greatly affected. If it’s Zupco that we have to board let every area have adequate buses and kombis. At the moment the buses are not enough and, in our case, kombis don’t reach our area as they say it’s far,” he said.
Last week on Thursday night and Friday morning, pirate kombi drivers and Honda Fit drivers blocked Zupco buses and kombis in some areas.
Police in Bulawayo have since launched a crackdown on pirate kombis and taxis commonly known as mshikashika as the law enforcement agents continue to intensify the fight against violators of lockdown measures.
Since the start of the blitz, pirate taxis and kombis plying the Luveve route have been dumping people in Makokoba while those using Khami Road were being dropped at the VID turn off. Kombis and pirate taxis plying the Plumtree Road route were dropping off passengers at corner 15th Avenue and Herbert Chitepo Street. Others have been dropping off people at the United College of Education (UCE)[email protected]