The regular fuel price adjustments, especially when much of the fuel in the country was being sold in local currency, saw regular fare increases by transporters citing the increase in the price of fuel.
Due to regular exchange movements the situation became unsustainable leading the Government to introduce a subsidised transport service in urban areas in the form of Zupco. The State also barred private operators from operating if they did not join the Zupco franchise.
The decision inevitably impoverished many operators, especially those that have failed to be a part of the Zupco franchise through failure to meet the company’s requirements.
The recent fare increase by Zupco, however, made commuters feel that they were robbed when private kombi operators were pushed off the road last year, and the unregistered operators came back in a big way, in some areas totally eclipsing Zupco.
We were soon caught up in a situation whereby what commuters complained about over private kombi operators was now being practised by Zupco, that is, the increase in fares without a corresponding increase in salaries for the poor employees.
It is against this background that we applaud the Government for the reduction of fares by Zupco.
We believe that the Government is subsidising the cost of transport and if the subsidy has been scrapped or reduced the public deserves to know so that the increases could be viewed in that light. Monopolies have a tendency of getting too comfortable in the absence of regulation and it is our view that in as much as we need affordable fares, competition could bring competitive fares that allow the businesses to remain viable.
To eliminate the problem of illegal transporters, the Government needs to dialogue with these transporters so that they are assisted to ride the Covid-19 storm, and guided by their interests, be assisted in establishing others streams of generating income so that we avoid the cat and mouse game that is currently obtaining.
Commuters are really guided by their pockets over anything else and they would opt for any cheap mode of transport, regardless of the perceived risk on their lives, either through Covid-19 infection or through use of unroadworthy vehicles.
Reduction of fares is a stop-gap measure it seems since it has been a response to the resistance by commuters to the new fares and shows the need for longer term solutions. We gather more buses will be provided to urban routes to help the urban commuters.
This is commendable and will help commuters but still a longer term solution is needed for the previously registered commuter omnibuses that, one way or another, cannot be accommodated by Zupco and we believe a solution lies in dialogue so that both sides hear each other out.