Urban mass public transportation: A call to reconfigure ZUPCO.

by | Sep 8, 2021 | Opinions | 0 comments


Hosia Mviringi


At face value, everything would look so wrong on the part of the government for failing to provide efficient public transportation systems and services in urban centres.


Admittedly, the ZUPCO franchise system brought with it advantages and to a greater extent a fair share of challenges.


The involvement of government in the provision of mass public transportation services is ideally the most logical thing to do as proven elsewhere worldwide.

The difference is the level of investment and efficiency that is deployed in the delivery of service to the people.


Some schools of thought opine that probably the timing was wrong for the banning of commuter omnibuses which had become a menace, an eyesore and danger to the public on our roads.

But let’s look at examples from other jurisdictions which implemented this model with success.


In Dubai, UAE, for example, the state is responsible for mass public conveyance, from metered taxis, buses, commuter trains, to one of the biggest airlines in the world, Emirates.


In the case of Dubai, one Tap Card can pay for your taxi, bus, train rides, and even pay for your next air ticket.

Every ride is pre-calculated and timed for easy local connectivity for the discerning passenger.


In Zimbabwe, with our relatively low levels of investment in fleet equipment (which means much fewer buses to manage), one would expect to have a functional system that maximises efficiency and eliminates revenue leakages through arbitrage and rent-seeking behaviours.

Or maybe the blame falls back on the responsible government line Ministry for inadequate planning.


ZUPCO has failed to transition and transform itself into a professional entity regardless of exclusive support from the treasury through dedicated funding and retooling.

In my opinion, ZUPCO should by now be looking at replicating a working passenger conveyance system at the National Railways of Zimbabwe in a deal that I envisage the company running commuter trains on behalf of the busy railway transport operator.


Regrettably, it is the inefficiency at ZUPCO that has created fertile ground for illegal operators known as Mushikashika. Wherever a service gap exists, other operators will chip in, legally or otherwise.


Thus, to a greater extent, the solution to current urban mass public transportation challenges lies not in fighting these illegal operators (Mushikashika), but in reforming ZUPCO and making it more efficient and user friendly.


What is the purpose of increasing a bus fleet whose revenues can not be effective, accounted for?

Under normal circumstances, ZUPCO would be expected to take advantage of and maximise the partnership with NMB Bank to efficiently roll out the Tap Card system which ensures that every cent generated is accounted for.


Currently, what you have is a system that is fraught with irregularities and prone to manipulation. A system that results in revenue leakages.

ZUPCO has embarked on a concerted drive to recruit private transport players to join the franchise, with potential franchisees viewing the partnership as a road trip to nowhere because earnings are not guaranteed.


But this exercise seems to end in futility because no one would commit the, or vehicles to a system that is as porous as a bottomless jar.


Private investment is driven by profit and as such ZUPCO must be able to guarantee a modest return on investment to attract quality private players into the franchise who can help maintain the good image of the entity.


The government’s move to regulate all passenger transport players through the ZUPCO franchise is laudable and worth all the necessary support but it has to be complemented by a competent team of managers and business leaders who know where to take the business.


Policymakers in the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, need to take time to understudy similar mass public transport models in developed countries to come up with a workable and applicable template for the Zimbabwean entity to operate efficiently.


A dysfunctional mass public transportation system is a major drawback for economic development as it affects business profitability as a result of inefficient and unreliable passenger conveyance systems.

Businesses suffer losses due to lost man-hours on the road.


In addition, there is a need for continuous retraining and reorientation of staff whose larger complement is derived from the former commuter omnibus industry which was accustomed to absurd profit margins and a blatant disregard for customer care and safety.


Most of these operators are competing to drag the ZUPCO franchise name into the mud through public harassment and mistreatment of passengers. These operators are guilty of profiteering through charging exorbitantly during peak periods and shortchanging customers through manipulation of exchange rates.


Most of them throw away the Tap Card machines during peak periods so that they can harvest hard cash from passengers, which they can easily launder on the illegal currency market.


ZUPCO should have effectively moved with the times and embraced a cashless system for convenience and accountability.

The monitoring system which is manned by physical ticket-checkers is not up to scratch as the process is usually cumbersome.


Some operators are guilty of switching routes without notice while disenfranchising well-meaning customers.

All these misdemeanours are a direct result of company management’s reluctance to completely move over to business automation such as centralised ticketing system and Global Positioning System (GPS) to monitor and enforce route service adherence and payments security.


The story of ZUPCO needs to be re-written before the script comes to a screeching halt.