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Why there is a public transport crisis

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A COMBINATION of corrupt deals, a dysfunctional contract system and poor management at the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) lies at the heart of the current public transport crisis which leaves thousands of commuters stranded in cities daily.

MOSES MATENGA

Zupco functions through buying its own buses and hiring others through the commuter omnibus system which was introduced to fill the gap left by the banning of private transporters who ran combis. Currently, Zupco has no capacity to acquire more buses of its own due to lack of resources as it is among bankrupt state-owned entities on the verge of collapse due to viability challenges.

 Despite being captured by politically connected businessmen, particularly Sakunda Holdings boss Kudakwashe Tagwirei through his Landela Investments, Zupco is still unable to introduce supplied buses and resolve the public transport system that is affecting thousands daily.

 In 2020, leaked government documents revealed Landela Investments imported buses initially said to belong to Zupco before being sold to the state enterprise at exorbitant prices. According to government correspondence leaked then, Landela Investments sold 162 buses to government at a profit of US$154 000 per bus each with a carrying capacity of 64 passengers.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made a ceremony of handing over buses, but the buses are hardly on the streets, raising public concerns over their whereabouts and the purpose they are serving when thousands of commuters are stranded on a daily basis.

Contractors who spoke to The NewsHawks said the situation will get worse as the biggest problem now has become Zupco’s shambolic contractual system that has seen many of them pulling out and those that remain are frustrated as they believe they were now subsidising the government.

“We only get fuel to run for a day and the next we are back again. We now then spend most of the time in fuel queues while people are stranded,” one of the contractors said. “Many have pulled out and for those that remain, they are frustrated because of late payment and poor payment. This has seen many of us failing to pay our workers and for services.”

“Late payment is affecting contractors and it is in RTGS that is supposed to come after two weeks but sometimes takes a month or two. With the little we are getting, it becomes difficult now to do proper maintenance of the buses.”

The contractors also said the impact of an unstable exchange rate was hitting them hard.

 “We are supposed to get US$84 a day at interbank rate and it changes on a daily basis. Even the slightest move on rates hits us hard on the face.”

From the paid amount, contractors are expected to pay their own drivers and service their own vehicles, while Zupco only fuels the buses. Contractors have complained that the arrangement was not viable as they were forced to service their vehicles and buying spare parts in United States dollars.

 “Another challenge is the cost of spare parts in Zimbabwe. They are sold in United States dollars and those who accept local currency they charge extremely ridiculous fares. This is one reason why we have these transport shortages.”

“Buses are being poorly maintained because of late payments and once they have broken down they are rarely fixed and it ends there.”

Owing to poor maintenance, the buses are usually down completely. If they are run, their time on the roads is compromised by queuing for fuel at different depots. The contractors also blamed poor management at Zupco for the crisis, saying most buses spend days in fuel queues at the company depots while people struggle to get transport.

They said the management at Zupco was failing to put the house in order and deal with the challenges. On where the new buses were being taken to, the contractor said lies were being peddled over the new acquisitions such that is has become difficult to know the truth.

“If a good number of buses come in, I don’t need to be told about it, the impact should be instant and should be felt. Where are the statistics? Where are the buses? You can’t fix a crisis by lying.”

Another contractor said: “People contracted to Zupco will eventually go out of business. Some have already pulled out and most are going to pull out soon due to poor and late payment; it is not sustainable.”

 He said the ministry of Local Government has exhausted its subsidy, hence the inability to pay the contractors.

 “Payments were made by the ministry of Local Government and we hear the budget for that was exhausted sometime in March. How are people going to meet their obligations when the subsidy is no longer there? Government must come up with another strategy to subsidise the programme. It’s a disaster in waiting.”

“Recently, they came up with a figure of 800 passengers a day that translates to ZW$64 000. That is what each bus should cash in. From the ZW$64 000, a contractor gets ZW$34 000. This is nothing compared to the expenses we encounter and you can imagine.” “Without subsidy from government, we are going nowhere.”

He said the Zupco programme has been around since 2019 and it was not making sense to give an excuse over “teething problems”.

“We are sinking gradually but surely. I am challenging the minister (Moyo) to address contractors on this issue and address their concerns.”

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