With the government announcing it’s intention to extend it’s ban on privately owned commuter omnibuses (kombis) beyond the national lockdown, only permitting them to operate under the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) franchise, it got me thinking on just how much we needed this change. The truth is, whilst kombis have been the generally accepted means of transport for as long as most of us can remember, we think it’s safe to say it hasn’t been the best way of doing things.
To kick things off I(along with a lot of the TZP team) would like to just go ahead and say the government did try to take kombis off the streets a couple years back. So it’s not exactly like they never cared. They did try but due to a not so systematic approach, lack of enforcement and a lack of proper affordable alternatives, it didn’t really work out. However with the national lockdown which has been instituted due to the pandemic, government has been given room to actually implement this operation And so for the first time in a while, it actually seems like our dear country might be getting itself a more organized transportation system for Christmas.
But why exactly is this a good thing ? Well let’s start with the obvious reason, safety. Merely going through the newspapers one can see just how many lives perish due to kombi accidents, a lot of which are a result of reckless drivers trying to get to their destination in unnecessarily fast times or attempting to evade the police. Multiple lives are put in danger on a daily basis. A government monopoly on the transportation sector would mean commuter omnibuses would have to meet strict safety regulations which would drastically cut down on car chases and reckless driving. It would also reduce the amount of kombis that roam the streets without tail lights and working brake pads.
With kombis being privately owned, there are no regulations to any of their operations. They do whatever they need to to make as much profit as possible. This includes deliberately delaying kombis’ arrivals at ranks just so that they can charge extremely high prices during late hours. Let’s not forget about the touts who more often than not harass people at bus terminals and ranks. You can’t even stand at a rank trying to figure out how tou want to travel without being bombarded with [insert tout quote here]. With a government run transport system, all that should be a thing of the past.
And let’s not forget about the actual price of a kombi. Because as private sector operators, they are basically free to raise the price to wherever they like. You could literally pay a certain amount to go to town and have to pay a higher amount on your way back on the same day. The pricing was simply our of control. So with the government taking charge of this sector, hopefully the price will be regulated and kept at a reasonable rate.
Now, obviously it will take more than just banning kombis to get our transportation system up and running in efficient ways. Some sort of selection programs for drivers and their assistants will have to be put in place. It might not ensure that we have the best drivers out there but at least they will be licensed, that’s a good start.
Incorporating kombis into the ZUPCO franchise might also pose it’s own problems. Like most government run entities anywhere around the world, a government run sector is typically not as efficient as the private one due to strict guidelines and regulations. However, I believe if all kombis are to be under ZUPCO, maybe the company could learn a thing or two especially about the operating routes and times to cut down on the learning curve and indeed become more efficient.
Of course, such a change comes with personnel alterations that will lead to the unemployment of a lot of Zimbabweans and indeed this is never easy for anyone but since it is basically expanding, the company might open up new positions within itself and hopefully a good portion of those who would have been laid off could be retrained to that end.
It goes without saying that bus stops will have to be setup in town and around neighborhoods with the bus schedule available there for people to be able to plan their movements accordingly. Indeed as the public, we would have to do our part ; protecting these bus stations, reporting vandalism, maintaining order at the bus terminals etc. We would need to work with our government to make this a reality.
To top it all of, I think it’s noteworthy to mention that a good transportation system is one the most underrated but important factors that help attract investment into the country. You’re probably thinking, investors will come in with their own fancy cars, they’d never use public transportation, but trust us, just having a well organized transportation system speaks volumes of a country’s efficiency factor, not only in transportation but in everything else too.
Domestically too, a well functionning transportation system can provide a lot of innovative young entrepreneurs and programmers with the chance to develop, apps to improve payment, or bus tracking, logistical programs that decipher which routes are fastest and most efficient for our buses or kombis etc. This indeed could be really great for us.
Ultimately I, but still one that needs to be implemented well to work think this is a welcomed change, and we hope the government can see this through, even if history has proven otherwise most of the time.