By Blessings Chidakwa
Commuter omnibus operators plying the Chitungwiza to Harare route have started quoting fares in United States dollars, purportedly to raise cash to buy fuel, which is now readily available at service stations selling in foreign currency.
But Government has issued a stern warning to those quoting fares in forex, saying the move was in contravention of the country’s statutes, which state that the sole legal tender is the local currency.
The commuter omnibus crews are mostly demanding forex during peak hours or charging exorbitant fares in local currency.
They are charging US$1 or $25 (local currency) hard cash while charging a premium of up to 40 percent to those paying via Ecocash.
Long distance commuters who talked to this publication have implored Government to deploy more Zupco buses to cushion them from the exorbitant fares, arguing that their counterparts from shorter distances had more cheaper options compared to them.
Commuters from Warren Park, about six kilometres from the city centre can board a Zupco bus for $1 to get into the city, while kombis’ charges range from $4 to $7.
On the other hand, those from Chitungwiza, which is nearly 30 kilometres away, pay $1,50 on a Zupco bus and an average of $15 to $25 for a single trip on a kombi.
Those from Norton and Ruwa face the same problem of high fares.
Kombis started charging fares in US dollars almost a fortnight ago, but not openly, in reaction to the central bank’s adoption of the exchange control allowing the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) to receive applications from fuel companies that have free funds for direct imports to be sold in hard currency.
Commuter omnibus operators now want Government to reserve fuel for public service vehicles and then agree on the fare to be charged as they do with millers after considering input costs.
A commuter from Seke in Chitungwiza, Mrs Nyasha Chitemba said relevant authorities should step in.
“We have been standing here from 6:30am to 7:40am because commuter omnibuses are rejecting bond notes,” she said. “They are demanding US dollars. Only a handful of operators are accepting local currency but are charging as high as $27, which in unreasonable.”
Another commuter, Mr Fungai Matanesu said Government should consider deploying more Zupco buses to long urban routes.
“Government recently acquired new Zupco buses that are awaiting deployment so it should consider our plight here in Chitungwiza,” he said.
Greater Harare Association of Commuter Omnibus Operators, secretary general Mr Ngoni Katsvairo professed ignorance of the matter, but said it was the way to go.
“I am unaware of that, but it will be the ideal situation given that fuel sold in local currency is not available and that we are also buying spares mostly from the Pakistan retailers and other dealers who import and sell in forex,” he said.
Mr Katsvairo said to avoid this scenario, another option would be for Government to reserve fuel for public service vehicles that would be sold in local currency and then agree on the fare with operators just as they do with millers after considering input costs.
“The Zupco programme is another good way of alleviating the plight of commuters but it needs more operators to be brought in,” he said.
Local Government and Public Works Deputy Minister Marian Chombo said charging in US dollar was prohibited by law as pronounced in Statutory Instrument 212 of 2019, which provides for a ban on the use of foreign currency.
“The SI promulgates the exclusive use of the Zimbabwe dollar for domestic transactions,” she said. “The Instrument provides for penalties related to contravention of provisions in the Statutory Instrument. The RTGS dollar and the bond notes and coins are the sole legal tender currencies. Government is seized with ensuring the protection of commuters.
“To date, Zupco has allocated 38 buses to Chitungwiza and 44 kombis, which cover 55 percent of the commuting public. More is being done to bring on board commuter omnibuses and more buses to bridge the existing gap.” The Herald