Bus shortage in Zimbabwe makes commuters miserable business and economic news
Harare, Zimbabwe Masimba Gwazho waits in line at a bus terminal in the central business district of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.
“I have been in line for almost an hour,” the 39-year-old bricklayer told Al Jazeera.
More than 100 people lined up in a winding line behind him-all of them tried to reach the satellite city of Chitungwiza, 25 kilometers south of Harare.
They are not the only commuters who are frustrated. Line after line, trying to reach nearby towns, crowded with the bus terminal, one of the busiest pick-up points in the capital.
Guazzo said that before the coronavirus pandemic, he only had to wait five minutes to catch the bus. But now: “You can wait here for an hour or more and then take the bus home,” he said.
“Every day, this is our life.”
The commuter bus is a minivan that has been modified and equipped with seats for 18 passengers. For more than two decades, they have been the country’s preferred mode of intercity transportation and are praised for their efficiency and speed.
But when the Zimbabwe pandemic last year, the authorities banned commuter bus operators from driving on their routes as part of a series of measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
After three blockades, more than a year later, the bus was again approved for operation. But the proportion of them returning to service is minimal.
Ngoni Katsvairo, representative of the Greater Harare Commuter Bus Operators Association, told Al Jazeera that before the pandemic, there were 50,000 commuter buses in operation in the country.
He said there are currently about 1,500, a 97% drop.
One factor preventing more buses from returning is that only those transport companies that are in trouble with Zimbabwe-Zimbabwe United Passenger Transport Company (ZUPCO) contracted-can easily pass the roadblocks set up during the pandemic to ensure compliance with virus control measures .
Katsvairo estimates that out of the 900 commuter buses operated by Harare, fewer than 100 are in cooperation with ZUPCO. He said that with the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, operators can simply earn more money by working independently.
For frustrated commuters, especially those who need to travel to the capital, this is no comfort.
Simbarashe Gwasera is a resident of Kuwadzana, a densely populated suburb west of Harare. When Al Jazeera caught up with him, he said that he had been waiting at the local bus station for more than an hour.
He said: “At least four buses pass by and they are full.”
Gwasera said he could not afford the cost of a free ride.
His bus fare is 30 Zimbabwean dollars (0.21 U.S. dollars), while the informal fare for passenger buses is 80 Zimbabwean dollars (0.57 U.S. dollars)—in a country with triple-digit inflation and stagnant wages. This is a serious price difference.
“I only have 30 [Zimbabwean] The dollar is on me, so I have no choice but to wait for the bus,” he said.
There will be more commuting difficulties in the future. Gwasera said he usually leaves work at around 4:30 pm-peak time.
“I don’t even bother to go to the town’s bus terminal after get off work,” he said. “If you take a bus, you can leave town at around 7pm or even around 8pm.”
Some passengers also complained that some ZUPCO bus drivers refused to accept cash, but insisted that customers use Tap cards to pay-electronic debit cards can prepay the bus show credit.
On a recent Tuesday, William Bassobo found himself out of luck. His credit card was swiped off, and several buses that did arrive at the Kuvazana station where he was waiting did not accept cash.
“Only the bus that comes will need to be swiped,” the 52-year-old told Al Jazeera.
It is well known that those who have credit on the Tap card will take advantage of this situation to charge a 50 Zimbabwean ($0.35) debit fee to passengers who do not have a Tap card or whose card is empty.
The Cabinet of Zimbabwe stated in May that it will support the “emergency procurement” of 667 buses nationwide to improve ZUPCO’s efficiency and bring some relief to commuters.
Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa stated that ZUPCO will restore traditional bus routes, use designated bus stops, comply with prescribed bus schedules and improve the electronic payment system.
For commuters in long queues or caught by empty cards, these improvements have not come fast enough.
“Last week, I couldn’t take the car home because I had cash,” Bassopo said. “I bought half a loaf of bread and went back to work.”