The ZUPCO initiative has always been a topical one and I have covered it in several of my articles. It has been somewhat a love-hate thing because there are good arguments for and against it. The most recent story I covered was that of commuter omnibuses under ZUPCO complaining that they are being made to remit hefty daily amounts. Plus there is also the issue of the government emphasising that commuter operators can only operate if registered under ZUPCO. This has obviously created widespread disgruntlement amongst commuter operators. In this article, I look at what the government is saying regarding the ZUPCO strategy. In principle, the government wants to have a scenario where urban public transport is overseen by one authority or franchise.
Remarks By Minister Of Local Government And Public Works, July Moyo
Recently during a radio program, Minister July Moyo shed some light on the concept of having urban public operators under ZUPCO. Some of his remarks were as follows:
“Our studies about transport in the urban areas show that competition creates chaos. The bus operators, once they are many in any urban area, it creates chaos. I remember when I was Secretary for Local Government and I met colleagues in South Africa, they said if you introduce these multifaceted kombis into your urban area system, you are going to bring chaos that you will regret. But we did it, and we are now regretting it.
Now we are reorganizing many urban metropolitan cities. They are now trying to organise such that transportation in urban areas has to be well organized. If you are to bring investment, you do not bring investment where there is chaos and our road system in the urban areas had become chaotic.
As a government, we are determined to make sure that as we implement Vision 2030 and as an upper-middle-class country, let us re-organise. This is what we find in Africa and everywhere else in the world.
What we have said is, the government, in its reform programme in the Transitional Stabilization Programme, analyzed that we want to partially privatize ZUPCO in the interim, instead of buying buses and making them the property of ZUPCO, they have been bought by the government through CMED. They belong to CMED which is an institution under the Ministry of Transport.
They are the owners of all those ZUPCO buses that have come. We are franchising buses from ZUPCO. The major ones that we recently bought are owned by CMED and it is franchising them under ZUPCO just like those other kombis and buses.
We will be taking papers to Cabinet to make sure that in the partial privatisation when it is finalised, the form of the company that will partially be privatized will emerge. What ZUPCO ends up owning can either be equity coming from the private sector or equity coming from the government. That is the private partial privatization we are looking at.”
Is This A Good Approach?
When closely looking at the rationale, quite a lot of it makes sense. It is no secret that urban public transportation had at some point become extremely chaotic. I have often said that if research would be done to assess the number of people that got injured, died, or were affected in some way due to chaotic public transport (especially kombis), the findings would be alarming. So it is a given that a solution was needed to address the chaos. Many people do concur with this because some semblance of sanity was restored. However, new problems have been created as can be seen from how congested ZUPCO pick-up points can be. The strategy would be great if it can fully meet the demand to avoid a new form of chaos.
Another issue of concern is that the amounts operators under ZUPCO are expected to remit daily. In a recent article, I highlighted this issue as follows: “It has been reported that they are now being expected to hit a target of RTGS$15000 per day. Juxtapose that with RTGS$4000 that they are then given per day. This means ZUPCO takes RTGS$11000 – such a huge difference! In pursuance of these crazy targets, commuter omnibus operators are resorting to all sorts of illegal practices just so they can meet the targets.” Not only does this disadvantage the operators but it also creates some form of chaos again. So that issue needs to be addressed; a proper balance must be struck.
The ZUPCO initiative failing to meet demand is because most operators are not keen on being registered under ZUPCO. I have just highlighted one of the major reasons why it is like that. Already I have noticed that other forms of small vehicles now ply routes that normally used to be catered for by kombis. This is all because there is a gap that ZUPCO is failing to cover. So all in all, there are still several issues that need to be ironed out to make this initiative effective.
The other sticky issue is that making it mandatory for operators to register under ZUPCO seems too extreme for many. For instance, some operators have all their documents in place and even have properly licensed drivers. They can operate professionally without having to be under ZUPCO. However, now they can only operate if they fall under ZUPCO of which the terms and conditions favour ZUPCO the most. Overall, the concept is noble but its implementation might be porous and subject to manipulation by corrupt individuals. Kindly tell us what you think in the comments below.