Sigh of relief for commuters

15 May, 2022 - 00:05 0 Views
Sigh of relief for commuters

The Sunday Mail

Veronica Gwaze

THE upward review of hire fees for commuter omnibuses that are contracted under the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) franchise has helped ease transport challenges for the travelling public.

The reviews came after some private transporters withdrew their vehicles from the Zupco franchise citing low hire fees and delayed payments.

There have been some teething challenges since Zupco reclaimed the sole mandate to operate the urban transport sector, which was controlled by private players.

Currently the company is deploying at least 765 high-volume buses and 1150 commuter omnibuses in urban areas.

This is against a requirement of 3 000 high- volume buses that were projected to comprehensively address the commuters’ challenges.

At least 500 of the available buses are currently plying Harare’s roads, where an estimated 160 000 people commute to the Central Business District (CBD) every day.

Zupco chief executive officer, Mr Evaristo Madangwa, said the company is still open to more transporters.

To ease the burden, the Government is also continuously procuring new buses for public transporters with 500 expected later this month.

“The issue of the fleet is an ongoing process, we need at least 3000 buses to meet demand though we will get conclusive figures when census results are out,” he said.

“We are expecting additional buses this month while more are being assembled locally. This will go a long way in addressing the prevailing challenges.”

Pre-ticketing system

After introducing a new pre-ticketing system earlier this year, Zupco could be on the path to recovery.

Under the system, a passenger purchases their ticket from Zupco booths and they are given their fleet and seat numbers before boarding the bus.

The pre-tickets can be bought using cash, swipe or EcoCash.

Under the normal ticketing system, passengers get an ordinary Zupco bus ticket. However, when using the pre-ticketing system, passengers get a smaller boarding voucher.

Mr Madangwa said since the introduction of this new ticketing system, the company has saved at least $24 million that could have been sunk into ticket-book printing.

He pointed out that the system also helps reduce long queues and stampedes at pick- up points.

“When one purchases their ticket, they are given a fleet and seat number and wait for their bus. This means there is no point for stampede because one knows which bus they are waiting for,” he added.

Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) director of technology, licensing and commercialisation centre, Dr Talon Garikayi, who oversees the development of Zupco electronic systems said the pilot project has so far sold more than 1,5 million seats.

The highest vending agent, he said, has sold about 1 500 tickets in a day.

“However, one of the challenges currently being encountered is that the staff always wants to handle cash. At times they do not tell passengers that they can get the pre-tickets by electronic transactions.

“We are also working on introducing the tap-and-go card system at the pre-ticketing booths.”

Dr Garikayi said since the drivers are not Zupco employees, it is difficult for the company to control them.

“These drivers influence conductors into criminal activities. We do not have challenges with tap machines so there are no excuses for a bus crew not to have one.

“We are rolling out tap machines on the new buses while repairs are being promptly done on the old machines,” added Dr Garikai.

Shortcomings

While the company is making frantic efforts to address transport shortages for the commuting public, the organisation still has other challenges.

The use of the tap-and-go card system, which was introduced in 2019, continues to cause confusion for both the public and the company.

Coming in as a convenience to passengers, the system, two years later, continues to have shortcomings that some conductors use to prejudice the company.

Zupco buses are migrating from the cash payment system to the convenient tap-and-go-card system, eliminating the use of cash.

The Sunday Mail Society, however, recently observed that some buses operating in Harare are refusing to accept tap-and-go cards, insisting on cash payments.

While some of these conductors claim that they do not have tap-card machines on their fleet, they sometimes insist that the system is not functional.

By insisting on cash payments, bus crews will then pocket the cash and allegedly use their tap cards to pay the company.

Sometimes, they allegedly convert the cash into electronic currency for a profit on the black market. Through demanding cash payments, the bus crews are also undercutting the utility company in its efforts to ease the transport burden for the commuting public at a minimum charge.

This has left some passengers bitter after their tap cards expired with large sums of money, leaving them counting losses.

“The problem is that our system is usually down so we have no choice except demanding cash payments. At the end of the day, I need to cash in something lest the company charges me with a shortfall,” revealed a bus conductor who opted to be identified as Jerry.

It gets worse

In other cases, some conductors are allegedly inserting their personal cards in the tap machine such that when a passenger taps, the amount credits into their (conductor) account.

While such cases should ordinarily be unearthed when conductors cash in by day-end, most of them work in cahoots with the cashiers who cover up their tracks.

“We recently discovered a web of conductors and cashiers who were cashing on this scandal . . . we were shocked,” revealed an insider. Revisiting our books, we discovered that they had not cashed in for days and upon interrogation, they revealed how they were doing it.”

Mr Madangwa confirmed the company is currently seized with cases involving unscruplous conductors and cashiers.

At least 100 staffers were recently fired in connection with the scandal, with more being investigated. To curb the continuously recurring cases, last year the transport company roped in Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to handle the issues instead of relying on internal auditors. Mr Madangwa, however, insisted that there are no challenges with the tap-and-go system as it is frequently upgraded.

The current system, he said, has no network connection issues and can connect from any location. According to Madangwa, all Zupco buses currently have tap-and-go machines while those developing problems are either repaired or replaced.

New buses joining the franchise are also being issued with tap-and-go machines.

“We have taken action against deviant conductors who are tempering with tap machines and those devising ways just to get their hands on cash,” said Mr Madangwa.

“We are also aware that there are crews refusing to ferry passengers into town usually after working hours, which should not be the case.

He  urged the public to report such people.

Share This: