LORRAINE NDEBELE THE government is bullish on the profitability and viability prospects of the Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (Zupco) following the opening up of the public transport sector to private players.
This comes after Zupco had been enjoying monopoly as the sole public transport operator following the ban of private players in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week opened the public transport system for other players to complement the services provided by Zupco.
Analysts, however, argue that the return of private operators will have a negative impact on revenues and profitability of the state-owned bus company.
In an interview, Ministry of Local Government and Public Works Director for Special Planning Honesty Magaya said the government remains bullish on the bus company’s prospects and will continue enhancing its operational capacity and quality of service.
“The ministry and Zupco management will continue to enhance Zupco’s operational capacity and quality of service as well as to maintain a balance between the affordability and viability of the operations so that it will continue to be the public transporter of choice in the major urban areas.
“Generally, Zupco will be preferred by commuters because of its already established goodwill factor, relatively affordable pricing in terms of economies of scale, safety record and image”, Magaya.
Magaya further noted that the bus company is still reliable and meeting its standards despite this current situation.
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Following a government directive to outlaw the use of privately-owned commuter omnibuses on urban routes in a bid to restore sanity in the public transport system; there has been an acute shortage of transport which almost sparked protests this month.
However, due to Zupco’s incapacitation to meet public transportation requirements, there was a U-turn by the government which saw private players back on the road. The government is in process of coming up with relevant regulations to enable liberalisation of the public transport sector and these will include the licensing of operators on any given route.
These regulations will go a long way in alleviating the plight of urban commuters.
Prior to its re-emergence in early 2019, Zupco nearly collapsed a decade earlier, its operations declined as it failed to cope with competition.
Recently Local Government and Public Works minister July Moyo assured the nation of an improved public transport situation.
As Zupco remains the sole provider of the urban public transport, the government’s planned partial privatisation of Zupco will, among other measures, also enhance its operational efficiency and competitiveness.
As the fight between Zupco and contracted bus companies escalated, the government approved an upward review of hire fees in a move that was meant to ease transport challenges.
The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development doubled daily hire fees for kombis from ZW$10 000 (US$38) to ZW$20 300 (US$78) to motivate private players to join the franchise. Government has also drawn up a cocktail of interim measures that are set to immediately ease problems affecting the capital’s mass public transport system.
There are plans for re-introduction of express bus lanes, procuring new buses for the public transporter and introducing an afternoon commuter train service.
This year alone, the government says it is planning to buy over 500 buses for Zupco.