No to extortionate fares

There is no justification for doubling fares when the price of the biggest cost, fuel, has not increased.

Public transporter operators made a killing in the run up to Christmas as they hiked fares to capitalise on the increased demand for the service.

This has been the common pattern every festive season with authorities convening Press conferences and threatening to whip the transport operators into line.

One imagines that after such threats, the problem will  not recur. But alas, it is the same hymn, year in, year out, a poignant reminder that the government has no teeth hence its intervention in the public transport system is just a facade.

The threats at Press conferences are empty and border on populism, the pastime for politicians.

Even if it wants to intervene, its hands are tied as the public transport sector is dominated by private players. This comes after the government failed to run its transport parastatal, Zupco, despite giving it a monopoly during the COVID-19 lockdown periods.

All the public transport players were forced to operate under Zupco and it became a disaster as the parastatal failed to pay private operators on time despite getting cash daily.

The private players were initially paid after a week, then two weeks until Zupco started paying after two months. They pulled out of the deal, leaving Zupco exposed and existing in name only.

It was a perfect illustration of how not to run a business.

Despite all the protection, Zupco failed.

That company is one step into the grave. If Zupco was as efficient as it was supposed to be, the public transport system should have been in its hands, and we would not be talking of the extortionate fares that have become the order of the day during the festive season.

Where are those Zupco buses that were imported during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021? They are nowhere to be seen, leaving commuters at the mercy of private operators.

Since the deregulation of the transport system in the 90s, Zupco has been sliding. Despite the poor performance of the company, government continues to maintain its stranglehold. It is time the government ships out of Zupco and leave it in private hands. Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed entity, Zimre Holdings Limited (ZHL), has been overshadowed, despite holding a 49% stake.

The government should sell its Zupco stake to ZHL or any other private player.

Zupco has been the government’s hunting ground, coming in handy at “usual pick-up points” as it transports supporters to rallies or citizens to national events. This explains why it wants to continue to have a tight grip on the parastatal.

Be that as it may, private transport operators must play their part. There is no justification for doubling fares when the price of the biggest cost, fuel, has not increased.

They are getting their money in a stable currency which they can use for operational costs. They do not have to convert the money on the parallel market.

As Passenger Association of Zimbabwe president Tafadzwa Goliati said last week, commuters are not automated teller machines from which transporter operators can withdraw money as and when they please.

That extortionate mentality must stop.

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