There are pictures circulating on social media succinctly illustrating the depth of the transport crisis: one of the school children packed like sardines in a Honda Fit on their way to school and the stranded commuters at Market Square bus terminus.
The commuters have to wait for more than two hours to get transport home as the only sole operator, ZUPCO, has failed to meet the growing demand following the reopening of the economy.
Some of the country’s have-nots have formed walking clubs as they navigate the transport crisis to reach home early and do other chores such as cooking for the children and assisting children to do their homework.
These tales have a uniform message — the ZUPCO monopoly has failed, more than a year after the government banned commuter operators as part of measures to stem the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Other than being unreliable, ZUPCO has no capacity to service the market and has failed to garner confidence from private players for them to join the franchise.
The few that have joined the franchise are crying as payment comes any time after a month and in some cases two months. This means they cannot meet their other obligations.
The government deregulated the urban transport industry in 1993 under the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme.
This saw the entry of new players to compete with ZUPCO.
As ZUPCO was ill-prepared for competition, coupled with corporate governance deficit, it was suffocated by competition and got a new lease of life last year following the ban on the popular kombis.
Since the ban on kombis, Zimbabwe has recorded a spike in cases of robbery and rape perpetrated by criminals using pirate taxis.
The government this week brewed another shocker: It introduced ZUPCO on rails after the ailing parastatals teamed up with another struggling state entity, the National Railways of Zimbabwe to introduce the commuter train service run by ZUPCO.
It is not the first time that the train service has been used before.
It was tried and abandoned after it proved to be uneconomic and failed to attract confidence from the commuters as it was deemed unreliable.
We are not against the reintroduction of the train service. It offers an alternative. But there is an alternative the government doesn’t want to hear about — kombis — and it is burning the midnight oil to ensure that they do not return.
The illegal pirate taxis will be with us for a long time until the government takes a holistic approach to the transport situation.
You cannot stop stranded commuters from using pirate taxis with a hashtag such as #NotoMushikashika. The arrest and prosecution of commuters using pirate taxis won’t solve the problem.
The arrests merely address the symptoms, not the disease. The pirate taxis are the only option available for commuters.
Government’s solution to the transport woes is akin to applying lipstick on a pig hoping for a change. It remains a pig!