By Andile Tshuma
Scores of commuters in Bulawayo were yesterday stranded after commuter omnibus operators hiked fares, some doubling them during peak hours, citing fuel shortages that have forced them to source the commodity from the black market.
Commuters who spoke to The Chronicle at the City Hall terminus yesterday said the transport challenge started last week, but worsened yesterday. Zupco buses and kombis were not on many routes.
In interviews, passengers said they ended up opting for pirate taxis, mostly Honda Fit vehicles, which however charged exorbitant fares of up to $15 per trip, especially in the evenings.
“I have been waiting for close to two hours each morning since Thursday last week and have not seen a single Zupco bus coming along. The kombis not the Zupco buses are there but they are very few of late and when they pass by my bus stop, they are always full.
“So, the only option will be the Honda Fit which now charges $8 during the day and from $12 in the evening,” said Ms Angela Mlilo from Mahatshula North suburb.
Another resident decried the transport problems.
“Zupcos no longer come here. They all go to the Sekusile (Nkulumane 5) route because they say it is short and profitable. Kombis charge $6 but some mornings they will say $7 or even $8, in the evening. So, it’s now best to just board trucks,” said Mr Cain Mhlanga from Emganwini suburb.
The Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) buses, which were introduced in January last year to solve transport problems have in the past weeks “disappeared” from some routes they were servicing.
Zupco Southern Region Manager Mr Tinaye Rwasoka could not be reached for comment while Zupco acting CEO Mr Everisto Madangwa was not answering his phone and had not responded to messages sent to him at the time of going to press.
Tshova Mubaiwa Transport Cooperative spokesperson Mr Atlas Moyo yesterday said there was no official fare hike from the taxi association.
“We understand the operating environment is very difficult but we are yet to come up with a new fare. We still use the old $5 fare. However those that are charging new fares are doing so at their own will, probably because of the expenses they encounter in getting fuel and spares,” he said.
Kombi operators said they had increased fares as they were buying fuel from the black market, which is expensive.
“There is no diesel right across the city and at the few service stations where it is available, one can spend the entire night in the queue and still not get a full tank,” said Mr Tinashe Moyo, a kombi driver.
“We are turning to the black market that is very expensive. We have to raise the fares for us to make a profit. Otherwise we would be working all day without getting anything.”
As the cost of commuting continues to increase in the city, an increasing number of Bulawayo residents are resorting to boarding pick-up trucks which charge far less than licensed transporters.
Some touts have established makeshift truck ranks that operate during peak hours along Herbert Chitepo and Fort streets.
Passengers ride on the back of pick-up trucks and are often packed like sardines.
Asked to explain the higher evening fares, taxi operators said it was because evening trips had no return trips.
“In the evenings, we only ferry commuters one way. There is no return trip as nobody will be coming to town at 9pm. So, I go to the township with a kombi full of people but come back with an empty vehicle. That empty trip needs to be paid for.
“We burn the same fuel, so the commuters have to contribute to the fuel used to go back to town to ferry more passengers,” said Leonard Mpofu, a taxi operator plying the Old Pumula route. The Chronicle