Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
THE transport crisis has been tabled before the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) as the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) bus fleet is overwhelmed, leading to workers walking to and from Bulawayo’s city centre.
The TNF is an engagement platform for Government, labour and the private sector on issues affecting socio-economic well-being.
Government’s efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the public transport sector has resulted in Zupco being the sole transporter for commuters.
This has created challenges as Zupco does not have an adequate fleet to transport thousands of Bulawayo residents commuting daily.
The situation is worsened by the need for social distancing in Zupco buses, as the 66-seater buses only ferry 32 passengers while kombis under the Zupco scheme carry only eight passengers instead of 18.
Government is re-modelling the urban transport system and Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo highlighted that operators outside the Zupco scheme might be phased out in the post Covid-19 era.
Chronicle yesterday morning between 7am and 8am observed scores of people lining the main roads leading to the CBD, such as the City-Luveve and City-Khami roads, like ants as they walked towards the city centre due to lack of transport.
Others patiently waited for Zupco buses which would only pick up a handful.
The news crew struggled to get residents speak about their experiences as most said interviews would delay them.
Those who spoke to the news crew said they were feeling the impact of Covid-19 as transport challenges were directly related to the pandemic.
Mr Maqhawe Nyathi from Emakhandeni suburb, who was walking along Luveve Road and was approaching Renkini Bus Terminal said he now walks to work, and it takes him approximately one hour to get to town.
He said although the situation is not ideal, it was better than waiting for Zupco buses for prolonged hours and being late for work.
“But walking also comes with its own challenges as you get fatigued and end up failing to deliver on your duties at work. While at work, the thought that you will be walking back home is something that can affect your performance. You get tired going to work and coming back from work. This has socio-economic impact on us. We are also in the winter season, it gets dark very early, this increases our chances of being robbed while walking home. we know there are some known dangerous spots especially in residential areas, you might not even know who is following you,” he said.
Mr Nyathi said Government should come up with a permanent solution to address transport problems.
The news crew also came across Mr Shelton Ncube from Cowdray Park suburb, who was approaching Mpopoma High School, who revealed that he had been walking for almost one and half hours.
“I left home at 6:30AM and now its 8AM. This is the new normal that we have and are becoming accustomed to. If I decided to wait for Zupco buses, I would still be in the queue for more than two hours. The things that I need to attend to are urgent I couldn’t wait for Zupco kombis,” said Mr Ncube.
He said even private vehicles were no longer picking up hikers plus some of them were charging $10 per person while Zupco buses are $2 and kombis are $4.
Mr Ncube said Government should increase the Zupco fleet as it was not sustainable to be walking to town and even back home on daily basis.
Mr Cruise Ncube from Magwegwe West, had joined a Zupco queue near Pelandaba suburb saying there was a better chance of getting transport along the main road.
However, the queue that he had joined was over 100 metres long, leaving him without a realistic chance of boarding the bus early.
“I’m going to buy electricity as well as medication for my grandfather but now I’m stuck in the queue. I hoped coming this side will ease the transport burden but it’s just the same. Some of the guys I came here with resolved to walk to town. But I could not. I had hoped that if I got to town early, I would do my business early and head to Zupco before queues start swelling. I just hope something can be done,” he said.
A Matshobana resident who only identified herself as Mrs Dube said Government should consider bringing back kombis.
“However, those kombis should adhere to health safety regulations of social distancing. Considering that most kombi crews are disorganised, Government should partner with those that fall under Tshova Mubaiwa as they are more organised and can maintain health safety regulations. Otherwise some of us have stopped even looking for transport. I’d rather walk for an hour as opposed to waiting for buses whose time of arrival is not known,” said Mrs Dube.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Mr Japhet Moyo said the transport issue was very topical in the TNF. He said the problem is even derailing the screening of workers for Covid-19 that companies have been doing since their reopening in the extended relaxed level two regulations.
“Transport is a big problem at the moment. Our proposal as labour is that Government should allow more players to come in and allow them to follow guidelines for instance the social distancing, if a commuter omnibus was carrying 16 passengers then it should carry half the number. They should disinfect the bus regularly, the very guidelines that we are following within the Zupco should apply to private players,” he said. – @nqotshili