The coming of ZUPCO was welcomed by many, mostly commuters. The background was that fuel price hikes had led to fare increases and many commuters who rely on public transport could not afford. The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development came up with a potential masterstroke, mass transportation using ZUPCO buses and other private transport operators who were interested in the scheme. Just more than a month down the line, those buses are disappearing from our roads. No one knows why yet.

No official position

On Monday 25th February 2019, hundreds if not thousands of commuters were left stranded when ZUPCO buses did not turn up to pick them up as they would normally do. A lot of enquiries were then made as to what the problem could be and most of these have landed on the Deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Advocate Fortune Chasi’s desk. This was largely expected because he was the face of the project when the ZUPCO buses were reintroduced on our roads again. In a Twitter post, Advocate Chasi responded, “As previously intimated, the matter has been firmly in the hands of Zupco itself as well as its parent ministry for sometime now.” As such, an official position can only be obtained from ZUPCO or the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing. ZUPCO is a parastatal falling under this Ministry. For now, neither ZUPCO nor its parent ministry has explained the disappearance of the buses.

Fuel Challenges

Without an official position, many are left to speculate what the problem could be. Government admitted that a mistake had led to the ordering of more than enough petrol at the expense of diesel last week. This could be the reason why the buses are not on the road, lack of diesel. Even at service stations, diesel queues are evidently longer than petrol queues. It must also be borne in mind that ZUPCO and its counterparts were getting highly subsidised fuel from government so as to make the deal enticing. This is the reason why they could afford to charge low fares. There were always fears that this was unsustainable especially at a time when government is in dire need of any money that it can get. Perhaps, government can no longer afford to subsidise the diesel and ZUPCO has no choice but to halt operations.

Old problems

For the longest time, ZUPCO itself has been dogged by a number of internal challenges, chief among them maladministration and corruption. These old problems might be back to haunt them once again. A Member of Parliament, Honourable Justice Wadyajena posted on Twitter saying, “It is a shame to hear the ZUPCO scheme is now falling apart. I’ve a feeling this is the beginning of a long tale of corruption and incompetence.” Hopefully this is not the case. If it is, commuters will suffer most as combis are already taking advantage of ZUPCO’s absence to charge high fares going up to $3 for Chitungwiza and $2 for suburbs closer to town. Another fact which must not be overlooked is that most buses which were put on this scheme were old. Transport operators opted to put their nicer buses on lucrative routes. In this light, the old buses will start falling apart at some point. This is another factor which will affect this scheme even if the fuel situation is attended to.

Only an official statement from ZUPCO or its parent ministry will give finality or some sort of direction in this matter. With commuters crying foul already, that statement is overdue.