Boitumelo Makhurane/Yvonne Ncube, Chronicle Reporters
SCORES of pupils were yesterday left stranded at roadsides as police in Bulawayo impounded vehicles that were pirating in defiance of the Government’s travel regulations meant to curb the spread of Covid-19.
A total of 13 touts have been arrested and 209 vehicles operating illegally seized in the city this week.
Police impounded staff buses, vehicles hired to ferry school children but are not registered under the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) and taxis operating illegally.
Before being released to their owners after paying relevant fines, vehicles taken by the police have to be cleared for outstanding tickets by Bulawayo City Council (BCC), while Zimra checks whether the vehicles were properly imported, not under-declared and did not evade taxes. Zinara also checks for the validity of licence plates.
Government in March last year banned private ‘public’ service operators as part of measures to contain the pandemic.
All commuter omnibus operators have to register under the Zupco franchise to be allowed to ferry passengers.
However, parents have raised concern over privately hired taxis that are being impounded by the police which ferry pupils to and from school.
Yesterday school children – most of them at ECD level – were left stranded and some did not attend school at all.
At a press conference at Ross Camp yesterday, Bulawayo Provincial Police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said the Road Motor Transport Act states that only Zupco-contracted commuter omnibuses are allowed to be hired as staff buses or to ferry school children.
“As police we say there is no selective application of law hence staff buses and vehicles ferrying school children not contracted under Zupco are not allowed to operate. Some of these commuter omnibuses are not even contracted by the companies or schools that they claim to be serving. This kind of operation is illegal as only those commuter omnibuses that are contracted to Zupco are allowed to operate,” he said.
Insp Ncube said schools should make arrangements with Zupco to avail kombis to transport pupils.
He warned members of the public against boarding non-Zupco kombis or buses at undesignated points as they face arrest.
He said commuters should shun vehicles without number plates as most of them are used in cases of armed robberies, mugging, rape and hit-and-run incidents.
“Police in Bulawayo have arrested 13 touts and 209 public service vehicles of which 121 are commuter omnibuses (kombis) and the remaining being Mshikashika operating motor vehicles and also defying the Road Traffic Act and Covid 19 regulations,’’ said Inspector Ncube.
In an interview, Mr Bekezela Ngoma, a parent, said children were stuck in the city centre, while others were stuck at roadblocks as vehicles were impounded and they had no means to get home.
‘‘My child dismissed from school at 1pm and he arrived home at 5pm, while some children were stuck in town after 7pm. We are at risk, even those that do not have kids at school. I have witnessed the police doing high speed chases with those so-called illegal taxis putting the lives of people in danger. We need to be protected by the police but they are endangering our lives,’’ he said.
Another parent said while they understand that some kombis are illegal, Zupco does not take children to and from school.
‘‘Zupco does not transport schoolchildren to school they only drop them at bus stops while these private hire school-run kombis drop them safely at school gates.
“Our children were left stranded in some places when the police impounded kombis exposing our children to kidnapping,’’ said Mrs Nothando Nkomo.
Mr Patrick Sande appealed to the Government to avail legal transport that will take children directly to school, collect them when they knock off and leave them at their homes.
Rethabile Mangena, a student at the National University of Science and Technology, said she arrived at 11AM for an 8AM lecture.
“Transport was a challenge in the morning, I waited at the bus stop for two hours until I arrived on campus at 11am when my lecture was through,” she said.
The Chronicle news crew yesterday observed commuters walking home together with schoolchildren to the western suburbs along 6th Avenue Extension as there were transport challenges following the police blitz.
Commuters raised concerns that they are facing transport challenges as Zupco is sometimes overwhelmed by the number of people. — @Boity104 @SeehYvonne