The Sunday Mail
PUBLIC transport drivers have literally become a law unto themselves.
They blatantly disregard road regulations, and at times use speed to spite commuters.
When a passenger complains or raises queries, they are either dropped off before reaching their destination or threatened with unspecified action by the bus crew.
Unfortunately, the rowdy behaviour by the bus drivers and conductors has in many instances cost the lives of innocent passengers. Others have been left handicapped.
Concerns have been raised about the work ethic of public transport drivers, with video footage used as evidence.
What quickly comes to mind is the video of Zebra Kiss and Rimbi Tours buses racing along the Harare-Nyamapanda Highway. The visibly negligent driving by both drivers led to the death of one person.
Learners have also been affected.
Last year, the nation was plunged into mourning when a Tynwald school bus crashed and killed six pupils after the driver failed to negotiate a curve in Nyanga.
The accident reminded many of the 1991 Nyanga Bus Disaster, in which 89 learners and staff from Regina Coeli School died.
However, the situation is set to change.
The authorities will soon introduce a raft of measures that are expected to bring sanity to the public transport sector.
Already, toll-free numbers have been provided to the public to report offending drivers.
“A dashboard will also be introduced for easy management of the cases. The facility will be accessed through a toll-free number. In fact, this is already in use. We will synchronise it with text messages for the public to be able to report easily. However, people should not abuse these facilities,” said Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Felix Mhona.
While accidents are expected to occur during ungodly hours, when drivers may be less cautious, of late, no time has become safe on the road.
In central business districts (CBDs), accidents are often blamed on dysfunctional traffic lights, which, however, is usually not the case.
Negligence and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs have proven to be the major causes of fatalities on the roads.
According to police, an average of 4 259 road traffic accidents and 172 fatalities are recorded per month.
At least an accident, revealed the police, occurred every 15 minutes countrywide in 2022, while an average of 15 people died per day.
In the past, the Government insisted on the installation of speed limit gadgets on buses but the system was later disregarded by public transport operators.
“We are in the process of revisiting the old system. It (speed governing) worked well in controlling road carnage, so, currently, we are soliciting views and ideas from stakeholders so that we migrate to the old system,” said Minister Mhona.
He added that the ministry is also in the process of setting up a Statutory Instrument that will allow for a vibrant integrated transport system.
Through the National Railways of Zimbabwe, he said, the Government is introducing the diesel multiple unit (DMU) that will be used to ferry passengers across cities.
This, he notes, will reduce the number of road public transport users.
“There is a need for public and private partnerships to establish sustainable road traffic safety programmes. Drivers should be responsible and practise safe road usage in line with the country’s laws and regulations. The implementation of galvanised road safety management systems is also underway,” said Minister Mhona.
This, he said, will be done through updating of the regulatory framework in line with national and international recommendations.
“We have also identified some road safety conventions; the document is ready and will soon be placed before Parliament for discussion,” he added.
Police are also in the process of acquiring breathalysers. These, according to national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, will be disbursed to police stations across the country for use at all roadblocks. Speed traps are also set to return.
“There will be training for officers who are going to be using those machines. Some of the machines have already been acquired. We also received a donation from the Insurance Council of Zimbabwe.
“It is a work in progress; we want all the highways to have fully operational machines to ensure the safety of the public,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
The measures add up to the United Nations Decade of Action plan 2020-2030, which is aimed at reducing road traffic accidents by 50 percent.
Penalties for offences
According to 2006 Statutory Instrument 168, anyone who is above 25 years of age and with five years driving experience is allowed to acquire a class one driver’s licence.
However, according to a Southern African Development Community (SADC) position, public transport drivers should go for a retest after five years.
Vehicle Inspectorate Department (VID) deputy director Mr Martin Musengezi hailed the Government for the integrated system that is meant to curb road carnage. He said the system will allow VID officers at roadblocks to have access to vehicles’ details.
Furthermore, the system will also give them access to drivers’ information, including offences they may have previously been arrested for.
Offenders, he added, will have their licences revoked.
“We now also have an effective system that keeps companies in line in terms of change of names and colours of their vehicles,” said Mr Musengezi.
The public feels there is need for the age limit to be adjusted.
“Back in the day, we used to have older and mature drivers, hence we used to experience little mischief by public transport drivers on the road. But that is no longer the case at the moment.
“The authorities should either adjust the age limit or allow them to acquire a licence at the age of 25, then place them under mentorship for a certain number of years,” urged Casper Moyo, a road accident survivor.
The integrated system will result in repeat offenders getting their licences cancelled. Others feel buses should make use of timetables, which will lessen the need for competition on the roads. For instance, one of the established public transport operators, Tenda Bus Services, has a well-laid-out time plan for its drivers, which stops them from unnecessarily competing for passengers with other players.
When an MB Transport bus hit a stray cow before overturning on the Beitbridge-Harare highway last year, claiming a life, a passenger, Mkhululi Siziba, was left nursing a broken limb.
On what was supposed to be one of his usual trips to Masvingo, everything changed just about 10 kilometres out of Beitbridge, when the driver started speeding. The driver ignored the passengers’ pleas for him to reduce speed.
“We warned him of stray beasts along the way and asked him to reduce speed but he was stubborn. I regret ever boarding that bus. I had been warned before that the company’s drivers are speed freaks,” said Siziba.
“My plaster has since been removed, but I have not yet fully healed. Since the accident happened, I cannot work and it has become difficult for me to provide for my family.”
In 2019, Zvikomborero Zhou had a miscarriage while 38 others were injured when a Munhenzva bus they were travelling on veered off the road and landed on a roadside guardrail at the 140-kilometre peg on the Beitbridge-Masvingo Road.
The driver is said to have lost control of the vehicle as a result of speeding.
“Some of the passengers later revealed that they had seen him drinking beer with touts while they loaded the bus,” said Zhou.
“We asked him to reduce speed but he turned a deaf ear to our pleas and increased the volume of his radio. The next thing I heard was a huge bang.”
Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) managing director Mr Munesu Monodawafa said they have lined up programmes under which they will talk about drug and substance abuse. He said they are working with other stakeholders on key legislative reforms.
In addition, the TSCZ is transforming into an agency in a move meant to give it enforcement powers.
“This transformation will assist us to complement what other agencies like the ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police) are already doing. There will also be some strengthened communication. We are introducing communication devices to ensure all enforcement agencies have easy access to information.”
Bus operators’ associations have equally upped their game in trying to curb road carnage.
There are three bus operator associations in Zimbabwe, namely, Coach and Bus Operators Association (CBOA), mainly concentrating on cross-border and intercity services; Zimbabwe Passenger Transport Organisation (ZPTO), which focuses on cross-border, intercity, rural and commuter services; and the Passenger Transport Operators (PTO).
“The major challenges are lack of discipline on the part of operators and lack of strict enforcement of regulations, making these errant operators continue to misbehave without serious consequences.
“Unfortunately, in Zimbabwe, laws do not compel operators to belong to an association. As a result, the majority of operators belong to none. However, those few that see value in belonging to an association continuously have meetings to set best practices and share challenges and opportunities.
“Members of associations have stipulations that require them to be compliant with all Acts and regulations governing the passenger transportation sector, which improves the general operating behaviour,” said CBOA chief executive officer Alex Kautsiro.
Passengers Association of Zimbabwe president Tafadzwa Goliati weighed in.
“We are in the process of checking and ensuring that all public transporters are affiliated to registered associations. These associations need to play an active role in keeping their members and drivers in line. We are also pushing to have a facility whereby passengers are able to log complaints just like what happens at the Law Society,” said Goliati.
He added: “We will continue to encourage passengers to gather evidence in all situations they feel need to be addressed. We also need an apex council that deals with discipline issues.”
The association has been conducting a joint campaign with operators, the Insurance Council of Zimbabwe and the police, explaining to passengers how to safeguard themselves.