We are now coming up on 9 months since the ZUPCO initiative was started. For those of you who might remember, this initiative came to life on 21 January this year in Harare. The initiative was gradually then introduced in all other cities across the country. Initially, it was just the ZUPCO buses but private players were added onto the fleet by branding their buses. This saw a significant increase in the number of buses used for the initiative. It is public knowledge that this ZUPCO initiative came as a huge relief to the commuting public who were now at the mercy of the usual commuter operators. Nowadays the ZUPCO buses still remain the preferable option for commuters in the country. In this article, I touch on some recent developments and also some comments regarding that.
In recent developments, it has come to light that kombis are going to become a part of the ZUPCO initiative. It first emerged when images of ZUPCO branded kombis made their way to social media platforms. It is said that interested kombi operators are already registering and signing contracts with ZUPCO. This means that these kombis will be charging fares that are similar to the ones ZUPCO buses are charging. The question is, is this a good move or not? There is no one answer to that because in a way it is good and in a way it is not good. Let us look at some vital talking points that I am sure are worth discussing.
Cushioning The Commuting Public
There is obviously no question as to how the ZUPCO initiative is relieving the financial burden of commuting daily for most Zimbabweans. The difference between fares being charged by the usual commuter operators and the ZUPCO buses is huge. For instance, consider paying ZWL$15 for a trip where if you are using a ZUPCO bus you can pay ZWL$4 or even ZWL$2. That just goes to show you that in as far as cushioning the commuting public is concerned, ZUPCO is doing a sterling job. There is a concern, though, that has been echoed all across the country about the growing demand for ZUPCO buses. Due to their affordability, the number of people seeking their services has surged to a point where they are failing to meet the demand. There have, of course, been assurances from the government that more buses are coming in but the progress has been too slow. The growing demand is also part of the reason why kombis are now being enlisted under the ZUPCO initiative. Anyways, I think it might interest you to know that this ‘cushioning’ element might be an illusion. This is my own analysis based on what I shall discuss in a moment.
From the day the ZUPCO initiative started the biggest concern has always been on sustainability. Considering that this initiative has been on-going for 9 months now it would somehow suggest that they are managing to sustain it. The concern has always been valid because the fares have always been far removed from the obtaining situation on the ground i.e. the fuel price hikes. You see, the usual commuter operators have hiked fares because of the incessant fuel price hikes that have taken root in Zimbabwe. It would be ludicrous for a commuter operator to charge fares that are affordable yet pushing the business into the ground. Yet ZUPCO has maintained much more affordable fares despite the fuel price hikes – how are they managing that? The answer lies in what has been cited as one of the reasons for the recent addition of kombis to the ZUPCO fleet.
It has emerged that the government is saying the financing aspect is being catered for by the budget surplus. I know the budget surplus issue is heavily contentious so I will not delve much into it here. What I will touch on though is the fact that this so-called budget surplus is a result of monetary policies that have been milking dry the transacting public. An example is the Intermediate Money Transfer Tax (IMTT) commonly known as the 2% tax. It is not surprising why earlier on this year ZIMRA reported increases in revenue collections. I guess you might already see why I said the ‘cushioning’ element is an illusion. If the government is using the budget surplus to finance the ZUPCO initiative it simply means they are using your hard earned money. Quite frankly speaking that is quite ironic because it is akin to saying I am charging you less because I have already financed the service I am providing you with the money I collected from you.
Treating Signs And Symptoms
This I will always say because that has become the new normal in Zimbabwean economic and monetary policies. What we are seeing with ZUPCO is a true demonstration of treating signs and symptoms as opposed to dealing with the root of the problem. The unfortunate thing about treating signs and symptoms is that you can only do as much and for a limited time only. With the raging inflation and snail pace in the rise of income levels for the general populace it would not be surprising for the ZUPCO buses to soon get to a point where they will not be as affordable. In the past few days I have noticed a slight decrease in people boarding ZUPCO buses. It somehow suggests that the 100% fare increase shook quite a number of people. So it would be most appropriate for the government to address fundamental aspects not secondary or tertiary issues.
So what is left to be seen is how the last quarter of the year shall be. The year has been largely turbulent but it seems these remaining two and half months of 2019 might get even more turbulent.