Pride Mahlangu/Mejury Magaya,Business Reporters
COMMUTERS have appealed to Government to increase the fleet of Zupco buses in urban centres to ease public transport costs saying kombi fares were now beyond the reach of many.
Following the latest fuel price increase by the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority to $15,49 per litre for diesel and $14,97 per litre for petrol, kombi crews in urban centres have responded by increasing fares. In Bulawayo and Victoria Falls commuter fares range from $5 to $6 dollars while in Gweru the operators now charge $4 from $3.
This has sparked an outcry from commuters who have flocked in large numbers to Zupco buses. However, the commuters have said the buses are not enough to meet demand for service as evidenced by long queues at termini with some spending more than two hours waiting for the buses, especially during peak periods. Commuters who spoke to Chronicle said public transport has become a hassle.
“We are asking Government to increase the number of buses and that can only be the solution. We need more buses, even small 36-seater models like the old Gushungo fleet that can ferry people in low-density suburbs while the bigger ones take the high-density suburbs routes,” said a member of the public in Bulawayo who declined to be named.
Students at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo also said they needed more buses on their route to and from the central business district as they could not afford high kombi fares. Because of limited buses, the students said they were arriving late for class as they spend hours waiting for next bus.
“These buses are not enough, we have only two buses ferrying students to Nust while just one faculty that of commerce has 1 000 students. Imagine the whole university queuing for two buses,” said one student.
A kombi driver in Gweru, Mr Arnold Chagwiza, who plies Mkoba route said they have increased fares in response to new fuel pump price.
“We were charging $3 but you know our fares must have gone to at least $6 in response to the $15.83 pump price per litre but with Zupco buses that are on board, going for $1 we have to charge $4 so that we can also have customers.
“But again, passengers do not seem to appreciate that we constantly have to increase fares in response to fuel prices among other factors,” he said.
Commuters also urged Zupco to improve its service saying many buses run by the company were not roadworthy and often suffer breakdowns.
“Zupco should improve their services and be more reliable. Sometimes you wait for long and the buses do not come. Two hours in a queue is not normal, at least 30 minutes would do because you will be going to work,” said another commuter.
Others suggested that Government needs to control fuel pricing and cushion kombi operators who also suffer increased costs.
“Both kombi operators and buses can work together because if we support the increase of buses and phase out kombis, we will have a big problem as more people would lose jobs and that is not good for the economy,” said another.
Tshova Mubaiwa Transport Cooperative chairperson, Mr Atlas Moyo, acknowledged the pricing problem and said commuter transporters’ associations would be meeting soon to discuss the matter.
“Fares should go up as you can see how much diesel costs. The sustainable price for us is around $6.50 to $7.00 per trip but because many are unemployed while those who work are not paid enough, we cannot increase to that level,” he said.
The National Railways of Zimbabwe recently announced a plan to introduce more coaches on commuter trains but said they need more funding to do so as it does not have enough rolling stock and locomotives.
Government introduced Zupco buses to protect commuters from the high commuter omnibus fares. Zupco now charges between $1 and $2 depending on distance.