Banned commuter omnibus crews operating in Harare’s central business district (CBD) are affixing metal security screens to windows and windscreens, while others are replacing the windows with wooden boards to protect their vehicles against being smashed by traffic police.
In terms of Covid-19 regulations, only buses contracted by the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) are allowed to operate.
Once the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Harare City Council traffic officers find non-Zupco buses on the streets, arrests are effected.
In cases where commuter omnibus drivers speed off, some officers end up smashing the vehicles’ windows using batons.
The operators have devised a new way of evading arrest and protecting their vehicles against window smashing.
While the kombi owners would be protecting their vehicles, passenger representatives and traffic experts say metal screens and plywood boards compromise the safety of passengers in the event of an accident.
They are charging fares ranging from $40 to $50 for a single trip.
Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) acting director operations, research and marketing Mr Ernest Muchena said the defiant operators were contravening Statutory Instrument 129/2015 which bars dangerous fittings on public transport.
“The Traffic Safety Council is worried about the mushrooming of kombis that have not been registered under Zupco,” he said. “Most of them do not have the required documents.
“We recently carried out a survey with the ZRP and discovered that some of them have shattered windscreens such that the driver’s visibility is reduced.
“We also noted that some of them have replaced windows with plywood which cannot be opened in the event of an accident. The other danger is that they put some metal burglar bars on their windscreens.”
Mr Muchena said passengers were vulnerable if the vehicle caught fire or was involved in accidents.
“There is also no circulation of air and that is violating the guidelines of the Covid-19 regulations which stipulates that in any vehicle there should be circulation of air,” said Mr Muchena.
He urged people to shun such vehicles and board only those registered under Zupco.
Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) president Mr Tafadzwa George Goliati said the survival tactics being applied by kombi crews endangered the lives of passengers and other road users.
“Just imagine in case of emergency, what will happen to the passengers?” he said. “To make it even worse, the passengers will not be able to breathe inside these ply boards, some of which are painted black.
“However, as a result of the transport shortages, we have no choice but to board these kombis so that we won’t be late for work or any other business.”
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said operators of commuter omnibuses or private vehicles ferrying passengers illegally on city and inter-city routes risked having them impounded.
He said police officers accepting bribes from defiant transporters will be flushed out of the police service.
“The police are aware that some vehicle owners and drivers have removed number plates, with some putting wooden boards or other materials on windows in order to evade arrest,” he said.
“This will not be tolerated and the law will be applied.”
Asst Comm Nyathi said more officers had since been deployed to ensure those who broke the law were arrested.
He said since the beginning of the national lockdown, a total of 224 037 people have been arrested for flouting regulations, while 21 180 vehicles were impounded for pirating and putting the lives of the public at risk.
Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators (GHACO) secretary general Mr Ngoni Katsvairo urged the police to be stricter on the roads to curb illegal ferrying of passengers.
“Even though the lockdown for kombis has overstayed, this behaviour of being wild, barbaric cannot be condoned in any way,” he said.
“Those vehicles with wooden boards and metal screens together with those without number plates are on the road because law enforcers are not enforcing the law effectively. Maybe they are benefiting from that mischief.”
Private kombis and pirate taxes remain banned from carrying commuters and travellers as part of the precautions to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Owners of suitable kombis can still apply to join the Zupco franchise.
In a statement recently, the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works insisted that only Zupco was allowed to ferry passengers.
Zupco, and the private buses and kombis operating under its franchise meet set health and safety standards that minimise risk to passengers.
They only allow passengers to board and disembark at designated bus stops and terminuses.
Government said it was concerned over the illegal operation of private kombis, which mainly ply urban routes while others were plying the intercity routes despite a ban under the national lockdown regulations.
Government said the ban on private kombis was not designed to disadvantage those who invested in the transport business, but to preserve lives in the wake of the health threat.
It has been noted with “great concern” that the operators who resist working with Zupco, were usually the unregistered ones, and did not meet the requirements.-Herald