Ever since the national lockdown started in March, private kombis were some of those service providers that were banned. This was in a bid to curtail the spread effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As much as that sounded noble it did create a huge gap in the public transport sector. No one would probably have thought that the restrictions on private kombis would be further tightened. Less than a week ago it emerged that private kombis will not be allowed to operate even after the national lockdown ends. This has been premised on the government’s quest to sanitize the urban transport sector. In this article, I shall be critically looking at this development.

Government’s Official Position On The Matter

The government’s official position was indicated through remarks by the Minister of Local Government, July Moyo. His remarks were as follows, “What we are doing is we want to bring sanity into the transporting sector like what we have done with the haphazard vending that was in the central business districts. The President told us that this is the time for us to bring sanity to some sectors during this lockdown. What the kombi owners can do is to register their vehicles with ZUPCO together with their drivers and they will be good. Actually ZUPCO is paying them more than what they are making right now”.

Kombi Operators’ Standpoint

The Case Of The Properly Registered Ones

Here I am going to dwell on registered kombi operators. For instance, there are registered kombi operators associations such as Tshova Mubaiwa. They have expressed discontent in the fact that they are being forced to register with ZUPCO. They have indicated that in the event that this move by the government becomes an official policy they will take legal action. Bear in mind that most of such kombi operators associations have proper documentation. Their kombis are properly registered and so are the drivers. Thus you would ordinarily expect that they should be allowed to operate. This is why they are heavily opposed to being forced to enlist under ZUPCO. You will see later on that the government’s approach of applying an umbrella decision is affecting even the innocent ones. The government’s decision is mainly inspired by the misconduct of unregistered kombi operators. However, they are using a one size fits all which is affecting even the registered ones.

The Case Of The Unregistered Ones

There is a demographic of kombi operators who are not operating properly. Most of them operate with a wide array of violations. Some have unregistered kombis whilst some (in fact, most) are driven by unlicensed drivers. It is apparent that they are bemoaning this move because their source of income has been plugged. There are mixed feelings in this demographic though. Some are empathising with them saying they are being deprived of their source of livelihood. On the other hand, it is such operators who have been complained about mostly by the public. They have been responsible for the mayhem in the central business district for causing chaos. Reckless driving, inhumane treatment of the commuting public and breaking so many laws are some of the things most kombi operators were known for.

The Possibility Of Real-Time Vehicle Monitoring Is On The Cards.

The government has indicated that they are working on a monitoring system. This system will be monitoring all commuter operators under ZUPCO. The idea will be to monitor fuel efficiency and also to ensure drivers stay on their designated routes. This will be a system through which if a driver violates laid down rules their vehicle can automatically be shutdown. To make all this a reality government is working with a young guy from the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT).

Overall…

What government is doing is somewhat pursuant to the right objectives. The urban public transportation system has been broken for a very long time. It has always been an area requiring attention and this pandemic has created a platform for that to be taken seriously now. Generally, kombi operators had become a menace in the central business districts. I believe the sanitization is necessary and long overdue but fairness must be upheld and certain balances struck in rolling out this ZUPCO initiative. It is also fair to take a step back and look at why we needed kombis in the first place. ZUPCO started failing the nation in the 1990s and all but disappeared in the 2000s. Private investment in transport was welcome when we needed it most.

The government has encouraged kombi operators to register with ZUPCO. They have given solid assurances that operators stand to make more money under this new framework. I have heard several people actually alluding to this though, so it seems it is so. The major bone of contention is on properly registered kombi operators being forced to register with ZUPCO. In my opinion, this has to somehow be reviewed. The crux of making registration under ZUPCO a requirement is a good move when you look at how it flushes out unregistered operators. However, it must not at the same time disadvantage those who have always been law-abiding.