The government’s plan to ban kombis and raise the minimum age requirement for public transport drivers to 35 years from the current 25 years, has sparked heated debate with some people accusing the government of having misguided priorities.
By MUSA DUBE
The minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development Obert Mpofu last week said government was working on a raft of changes to address the challenges besetting the transport industry.
He said some of the challenges affecting the transport system was traffic congestion in cities like Harare and phasing out kombis was necessary in order to decongest the cities.
According to the minister, the measures, contained in the National Transport Policy, will be implemented over the next two years. Under the new arrangement, high-volume buses operated by a limited number of private players will replace commuter omnibuses.
The new system, said the minister, would significantly reduce bus fares and largely affect commuter omnibuses with a carrying capacity of less than 26.
One such operator, Metro Buses, has already been commissioned to participate in a pilot project of the new system. Minister Mpofu said the review of public transport drivers’ ages was a response to a spate of accidents which often involved young drivers.
However in an interview in Bulawayo last week, the Zimbabwe Passengers Association (ZPA) secretary general Paul Makiwa disagreed with the approach that the government was taking in addressing the transport sector challenges.
He said the government was addressing the symptoms of the problem instead of dealing with the real problem. He claimed that 60% of the accidents were caused by government’s failure to follow the Road Traffic Act.
“You will find that at the Vehicle Inspection Department [VID], a kombi which is supposed to carry 15 passengers is licensed to carry 18 passengers,” said Makiwa.
He said shifting the minimum age requirement for public transport drivers to 35 years from the current 25 years was not the panacea to the high accident rate in the country.
“The age changes will not have any effect. There are going to be high accidents as long as real problems are not addressed. A 15-seater should carry 15 passengers to avoid overloading. Most of the accidents are caused by overloading,” said the ZPA official.
He said most of the kombis that minister Mpofu wanted phased out were doing a great job in transporting people to areas that are shunned by buses.
“These kombis are the ones that are operating in the rural areas. We have places that have gone 20 years without buses plying there. Many bus operators are not willing to go to those areas because of a poor road network,” said Makiwa.
Makiwa said the minister should instead spend his energy fixing the roads that are in a deplorable state.
“He should address the problem of the road network first before he starts phasing out the kombis. If he addresses the challenges of poor roads, it would result in more buses coming and the kombis would phase themselves out,” he said.
A kombi operator, Trynos Langa, echoed the same sentiments saying the move was going to affect their business. He said 90% of the kombi drivers were below 30 and if they were banned from driving, it would cause serious challenges.
“About 90% of the kombi drivers are below the age of 35. Where do you want them to work if the age limit is reviewed upwards? Where should they go?” queried Langa.
However, some women in Bulawayo welcomed the move to have more mature people drive the kombis as the behaviour of the young drivers left a lot to be desired.
“The behaviour of these young kombi drivers and their conductors is bad. They don’t have respect for passengers especially women. We will be happy if we have mature people driving these kombis,” said Sheila Ncube.
She added that the move would probably be the solution to the high rate of accidents on the country’s roads.
Reports say close to 2 000 people die in accidents annually, with most accidents linked to human error.