Government bid to push kombis outside CBDs

HARARE – Government is mulling prohibiting commuter omnibuses from operating in central business districts (CBDs) in order to restore sanity in city centres, the Daily News can report.

The move was first initiated by the Harare City Council (HCC) in February this year only to be reversed by the Local Government ministry, citing inadequate consultations with key stakeholders.

Having secured a five-year-term at the July 30 polls, the new administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa now wants to restore order in CBDs where kombis are rendering roads impassable.

In a bid to de-congest CBDs, newly-appointed Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza told the Daily News yesterday that unclogging cities and towns was one of his top priorities, and shall soon commence discussions with all stakeholders to map the way forward.

“It is clear that the city is so congested that at times it has become a nightmare to move around owing to the chaotic manner in which the commuter omnibuses operate with no designated termini,” he said.

“So we are looking at a multi-stakeholder approach where we will engage widely as we also propose the re-introduction of conventional buses as an alternative to the kombis,” added Matiza.

In terms of the mooted plan, the Transport ministry will identify and create designated holding bays for the commuter omnibuses on the peripheries of the cities and towns, where they will compete for passengers with conventional buses.

To avoid inconveniencing commuters, shuttle buses would be introduced to ferry passengers to their respective ranks.

Once the ban becomes effective, punitive action would be taken against kombi drivers and operators that stray into the CBD to pick up passengers. The ban would also apply to commuter services, commonly referred to as “mushikashikas”.

Commuter omnibuses and mushikashikas have become a menace throughout the country.

They are notorious for picking up and dropping off passengers at undesignated points, violating traffic regulations, use of vulgar language and reckless driving, which has led to several fatal accidents.

Most of the vehicles are not even registered to ply the country’s roads.

Early this year, the ministry of Local Government gave the HCC 18 buses to revamp its transport system.

Buoyed by the new fleet, the city fathers took the decision to ban commuter omnibuses from the CBD.

This was met with chaos as passengers were dropped on the outskirts of the city, forcing them to walk long distances to their workplaces in town.

Local Government minister July Moyo had to step in by reversing the ban.

Only time will tell if the latest attempt to introduce conventional buses could provide relief to both the authorities and the commuting public in view of the
multiplicity of challenges that most operators of conventional buses have faced before.

For instance, most conventional buses that used to ply urban routes throughout the country, including the government-owned Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) found the going tough as the country’s economy began to fail them at the turn of the new millennium.

Operators were struggling to maintain their vehicles which constantly broke down as Zimbabwe’s transport sector experienced serious viability problems due to acute shortages of foreign currency to import spare parts.

The shortage of foreign currency to maintain fleets saw the country’s transport sector slowly grinding to a halt resulting in commuters enduring long queues to and from work.

In 2011, then Local Government, Rural and Urban Development minister, Ignatius Chombo conceded that the prevailing dynamics in the urban transportation system had rendered Zupco not viable to operate citing unpreparedness to bail out the transport utility as it was failing to compete in the business.

Meanwhile, Matiza also revealed to the Daily News that his ministry was also planning to establish a seamless link between institutions involved in the public transport sector such as the Vehicle Inspection Department, Central Vehicle Registry, the Zimbabwe National Roads Agency and the Zimbabwe Republic Police to improve efficiencies.

“Government is (also) considering strengthening the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe to allow for adequate policing of the roads subsector,” he said.