The intransigence of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company which insists on running empty buses instead of lowering fares is clearly proving what proponents of privatisation have always argued for – no one really seems to care about the viability of the company as long as they get their fat cheques, bonuses and perks.
Instead of addressing the problem of fares which have resulted in commuters boycotting public transport except only when there is no alternative like during peak hours, top officials are complaining about the shortage of drivers when those already employed are driving empty buses at times with as little as five passengers in a 76-seater bus. This is despite the fact that the company was forced not to increase its fares on July 1 as had already been approved because people were not happy with the existing fares.
Emergency taxis increased their fares by 50 percent but after just one week’s boycott, they reverted to their old fares and they are now robbing the bus company of passengers.
Even the popular “Dynas”, which at one time threatened to drive emergency taxis bankrupt are also running empty because they are now 25 cents more expensive than emergency taxis. At face value 25 cents may not look much but for a worker this represents an extra 50 cents a day which adds up to $2.50 a week which in turn means the worker saves a day’s fare plus 50 cents change.
Before ESAP began to bite, most people would not have minded this, but today everyone is trying to make sure that every cent is usefully spent. While ZUPCO, as a large company runs a huge fleet of buses which need constant maintenance and staff to supervise its operations, several questions are being asked about the company’s wisdom to keep unaffordable fares.
In terms of fuel, ZUPCO uses diesel which is cheaper than petrol which emergency taxis use. Emergency taxis may be one-person operations, but even then if the situation is that hopeless that ZUPCO needed another increase in July, then emergency taxis must be operating at a loss. If they are making a profit, with a maximum of 11 passengers (overloaded of course) a trip, then there is something terribly wrong with the operations of ZUPCO.
The problem may simply be too much staff. It is not rare to see five inspectors supervising three buses. On the route will be more inspectors and checkers.
Even if operating costs are high what is better to run a bus with 10 passengers paying one dollar each and net $10 or running a bus with 75 passengers paying 50 cents each and get $38?
Because of the present economic situation, it seems transport is one of the least priorities for most people today. They would rather walk if that is possible. Even rural bus operators have been complaining. People are just not travelling as often as they did in the past. Rural bus operators had also planned to raise their fares but they realised they would run out of business.