THE shortage of public transport in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare is threatening to derail efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, as commuters are hardly practising any social distancing while in queues for buses.
Overcrowding at bus termini in the city center and residential areas have become the order of the day as commuters wait for hours on end for the few buses that are operating.
This has resulted in commuters enduring inordinate delays going to and from work, in addition to exposing themselves to the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
Since the country eased lockdown measures on May 4 to allow formal businesses to resume operations, the volume of workers in the capital who commute to and from work using public transport has increased significantly.
This has happened at a time when government continues to maintain its ban on privately-owned commuter omnibuses, which used to work side by side with state-owned Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) buses in providing transport to commuters.
ZUPCO buses remain the only mode of public transport and operators are required to observe and enforce proper social distancing and disinfecting guidelines.
However, ZUPCO buses are too few to provide adequate transport for the commuting public, leaving thousands of commuters stranded.
“I now wake up at 4 a.m. to join the queue so that I can be at work by 8 a.m. Previously, I would turn up for work very late, after spending hours waiting for the bus,” said Enock Chiripasi, a worker at an electrical shop in the city.
He said his security guard friend had resorted to not going home after finishing his night duty, to avoid the inconvenience of shortage of transport.
“My friend no longer goes back home when he finishes his night duty because of the struggle he endured to get transport back home. By the time he reaches home, he will be left with just one or two hours of rest, before he needs to go and look for transport to be back at work by 6 p.m.,” said Chiripasi.
As part of the lockdown measures to ensure social distancing, the government has banned privately-owned commuter omnibuses from operating, except for those contracted under ZUPCO.
Last week, the government urged private commuter omnibus operators to register with ZUPCO in order to resume operations during the lockdown period, which started on March 30 and has been extended indefinitely.
“We have talked to ZUPCO management to say in order for commuter omnibuses to be on the road they should surrender under ZUPCO so it can be managed as one. All we are trying to do is organize so that we have proper transportation networks,” said Minister of Local Government and Public Works July Moyo.
Last year, government extended the ZUPCO franchise to private commuter omnibus operators in a bid to increase convenience for urban commuters, but not many commuter omnibus operators embraced the offer.
Zimbabwe has to date recorded 46 confirmed cases of Covid-19 including 18 recoveries and four deaths.