HARARE – Problems in recharging Zupco tap-cards in Norton have seen vendors using their own cards, and some have a lot, charging desperate passengers $50, more than twice Zupco’s $24, which now on many routes has to be paid by tap as cash is no longer accepted.
Passengers at the Zupco Norton terminus used to recharge simply by approaching Zupco staff stationed there for exactly that purpose, but in recent times they are simply not there, or at least when needed by passengers.
Private cars and pirate taxis illegally ferrying people to Harare are now charging between $80 and $100, with some just asking for US$1.
Zupco does not limit the number of tap cards one can possess, hence creating room for the vendors to possess at least 10 cards each for use in the scam.
Zupco last year introduced a convenient electronic ticketing system, the tap and go, as a convenience to passengers and, as the company found out later, these also help plug cash leakages from the public transport operator and remove the need for change or checking banknotes as passenger climb aboard.
On that basis, the bus company on most routes, now strictly ferries tap-card holders and rejects cash payments.
Those without tap cards are barred from boarding the buses and sometimes are given the last preference, when all tap-card holders are seated.
To that end, Zupco deployed officers at a handful of bus ranks to facilitate credit top-ups and to issue new tap-cards.
At Katanga in Norton, a major terminus, the system is now in a shambles. The gouging vendors each with their handful of charged cards crowd at peak hour when most commuters would be jostling to board the few available conventional buses. Weekends are also popular, since Zupco staff are scarce.
Zupco bus crews turn a blind eye when the unscrupulous vendors offer desperate travellers tap cards and demand $50, giving an impression that they tolerate the scandal, if they are not involved.
When the buses come, those who have made arrangements with the vendors, are allowed to board the bus first.
At times, commuters are given tap cards for use before returning them to the owners, through the window.
At other times, the owners of the tap cards position themselves at the door and personally do the transactions on behalf of their “clients”.
Conductors allow them to do the transactions, fully knowing that the vendors will be swindling the commuters.
Efforts to get a comment from Zupco chief executive Mr Evaristo Madangwa failed as he did not respond the questions sent to him.
Mr Madangwa acknowledged receipt of the questions on WhatsApp, but did not respond until time of print.
A Harare based Information Communication Technology expert who preferred anonymity said Zupco needs to upgrade its system to ensure commuters can credit their accounts electronically.
“It is possible for Zupco to upgrade its system to enable commuters to do self-service when topping up their card credits.
“They should be able to do the top-up in the comfort of their homes. There is no need for them to queue at bus ranks, looking for Zupco officers, especially in this Covid-19 era.
“Zupco needs to engage banks and mobile phone operators on this issue to come up with a lasting solution, for the convenience of commuters,” he said.
After a vendor pays for a number of commuters using his or her own cards, the conductor simply issues the passengers with tickets without questioning how payment was done.
Before commuters receive the tickets, they pay $50 each to the vendors.
The vendors only accept cash payment.
A reporter joined the queue at Katanga terminus but was denied entry into the bus because he had no tap card. He remained in the queue until some people advised him to engage a male vendor popularly known as Baba Jona who had a bunch of tap cards.
Zupco officials responsible for top-ups were nowhere to be found. Scores of commuters were left with no choice but to hire tap cards from these vendors.
The reporter engaged Baba Jona, who charged $50 for the service. The Herald reporter was told that as soon as the bus arrived, Baba Jona would help him jump the queue and then tap his card for him.
“Relax my friend, as soon as the bus arrives, you will get first preference. I will assist you, just relax in the queue knowing that everything is under control.
“After the transaction, that is when you can give me my $50.”
True to his word, a Zupco franchised bus arrived and the reporter together with 12 others who had engaged Baba Jona, were allowed into the bus first.
Baba Jona stood next to the conductor by the door tapping his cards on behalf of the clients and collecting his money.
The conductor would just issue the commuters with tickets and allow them in.
Baba Jona is not alone in the business.
The reporter saw two women vendors who were involved in the same business at Katanga terminus.
Discussing the issue while in the bus from Norton to Harare over the weekend, some commuters vowed to take the matter to authorities.
“This is unfair and wrong. How can we be told that the person responsible for crediting our tap cards is not here? He is supposed to be on duty.
“Some people are taking advantage of his absence to swindle us of our money,” said a commuter.
Passengers believe, although without evidence, that there is a possibility that Zupco staff deliberately vanish so vendors can make money, and certainly Zupco staff were allowing the clients of vendors to jump the queues. – Herald