By Andile Tshuma
Commuters in Bulawayo are facing severe challenges getting transport as available Zupco buses and kombis are failing to cope with demand.
This is causing people to spend hours at bus ranks, with some resorting to walking to their intended destinations.
Multitudes of people were stranded in the city yesterday afternoon while hundreds opted to walk as there were too many people looking for transport and too few public transport vehicles to ferry them home.
A Chronicle news crew observed some private cars and pirate taxis plying the Luveve Road route and the eastern suburb routes as transport blues worsened after 3PM.
Commuters who spoke to the news crew said they had been standing in queues for more than four hours waiting to board buses.
They expressed fears that the lack of social distancing in the queues could expose them to Covid-19. Although most of the people in the crowded queues had masks on yesterday, they were not putting them on properly, some suspending them on their chins.
Those interviewed said they were feeling hot after standing in the sun for too long and the masks had gotten uncomfortable.
However, buses were observing social distancing numbers.
A bus is required to have one passenger on each two-seater seat and two passengers on each three-seater seat.
Kombis must have only two passengers sitting per row.
The news crew observed that a number of Zupco kombis had more passengers than the stipulated number along Luveve Road and along Athlone Avenue in Sauerstown suburb.
Members of the public appealed to Government to bring back commuter omnibuses from the three taxi associations: Tshova Mubaiwa Transport Corporation, Bulawayo Public Transport Association (BUPTA) and Bulawayo City Transit (BCT) to complement the Zupco scheme which is now oversubscribed.
Ms Francesca Ncube of Gwabalanda suburb said she spent over four hours queuing for the bus for a trip home that takes less than forty minutes.
“It will be hot, we will all be standing for hours waiting for the kombi. The social distancing in the Zupco bus or kombi is useless because you are in the bus for about 35 minutes but you would have spent over four hours crammed together in the queue waiting for the bus.
“It will be hot and there is discomfort, so we end up removing the masks as breathing gets difficult with prolonged wearing especially in the sun,” she said.
Another resident, Ms Hamu Chivanga said a single bus serves a number of suburbs, which creates chaos and makes the wait for a ride longer in the CBD.
“I come from Lobengula and we use the same bus with people from Magwegwe West. The bus is overwhelmed and we stand in the queue for hours. We arrive late at home but in that wait, there is no straight queue and there is no social distancing but you cannot think you are better than others and leave the queue because you will then never board the bus,” she said.
Mr Privilege Nyathi from Luveve suburb said it would be noble if Government brought back kombis on the roads under strict conditions to monitor observance of social distancing, so that people would not have to stand in crowds waiting for buses thereby risking contracting Covid-19.
“Government must just bring back all kombis. In as much as we are still in level two lockdown, it does not mean that we must struggle like this to commute. Zupco cannot manage, that’s the truth. Government must bring back all kombis but then ensure that the social distancing is enforced in all public service vehicles,” he said.
Mr Enock Mguni, a Cowdray Park resident said he could no longer offer his neighbours a ride in his car when they were coming to the CBD or going back home due to what he described as “harassment” that he experiences from police officers manning roadblocks along Luveve road.
“I am just going home but I am even afraid to pick my neighbours and offer a lift as police officers will demand to know why we are together and then say I am pirating, or say there is no social distancing in the car. It is a tough situation,” said Mr Mguni.
Ms Nomsa Ndlovu from Entumbane said she had resorted to walking to and from town as she felt that long hours spent in Zupco queues exposed her more to Covid-19.
“It is better to just walk than to wait for hours only to hear that bus services for your route have closed for the day, and you still walk after waiting. This whole thing is just a mess. Zupcos are affordable yes, but getting a ride is real luck. They cannot cope on their own.
“Kombis must come. Right now, I just walk along the busy Luveve road until I get home. It is better than risking my life in those long bus queues,” said Ms Ndlovu.
Tshova Mubaiwa Transport Corporation chairperson Mr Atlas Moyo yesterday said Government must consider the dangers of keeping people for too long in queues where the was no adherence to social distancing as it is more dangerous than being in airy moving vehicles that take them home fast.
He also urged Government to consider the plight of transport operators who have been without an income for over a month.
“We understand the Covid-19 concerns but we must be roped in to transport people without being forced to join Zupco. We are therefore having a meeting this week where we hope to find a way forward and seek audience with relevant authorities. People are suffering, they are struggling to find transport yet kombis are just stationary at car parks,” said Mr Moyo.
“Our people are now hungry, the transport industry is the biggest employer in this city. It not only feeds the owner, the driver and the conductor, but this industry supports a lot of other industries that rely on the high traffic volumes.
We have touts, rank marshals, food vendors, miscellaneous vendors, car wash boys. Some of these people will end up resorting to crime. People will die of hunger first before the virus kills them.”
In a telephone interview, Zupco Acting CEO Mr Everisto Madangwa urged members of the pubic to decongest the transport sector by avoiding unnecessary travel.
He said Zupco is recruiting more commuter omnibuses into its kombi scheme to help increase the fleet on the roads.
“There are currently 500 kombis on the scheme countrywide. So we want to increase that number. We are inviting operators to join Zupco. If they want to be on the road, they must have their papers in order, then they must join Zupco as we are still on level two of the lockdown.
“Commuters must also heed the call to stay at home if they have no essential business to attend to so that we do not congest our buses and kombis. We are still on lockdown and there are still regulations governing us, we must comply,” said Mr Madangwa. The Chronicle