Robin Muchetu Senior Reporter
COMMUTER omnibuses with a carrying capacity of less than 29 passengers are operating illegally along the country’s highways, Sunday News can reveal. The vehicles, banned by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development from operating long distances around the country, are in service despite the Vehicle Inspection Department (VID) not issuing them with route permits for the long distances.
The Commissioner of Road Motor Transportation (RMT), Mrs Joy Mathema, confirmed the ban.
“Currently vehicles of below 29 passenger seats are authorised to ply routes of not more than 150kms. These vehicles are meant to complement conventional buses with seating capacity of around 70 passengers and not to compete with each other,” she said.
However, the Commissioner said it had been noted that due to inadequate capacity to service certain routes by the conventional buses, the smaller vehicles were dominating long distance routes though without permits.
Bus operators who have the route permits for the long distances have over the years been complaining over the presence of the smaller commuter omnibuses, saying they compete for their customers and travel at high speeds. They also strive to make two trips a day for routes such as Bulawayo to Harare, Victoria Falls and Beitbridge routes so as to increase profits.
Mrs Mathema said although the commuter omnibuses were operating illegally, the RMT had no arresting powers on those found flouting regulations.
“Road Motor Transportation issues permits to these passenger carrying kombis and conventional buses but does not have arresting powers. VID and the Zimbabwe Republic Police are mandated to enforce the RMT Act but occasionally RMT joins them in joint enforcement exercise,” she said.
Transport operators who spoke to the Sunday News said they were not sure why they were failing to access route authority for their commuter omnibuses.
“We do not understand why they are refusing to give us route authority documents for the Bulawayo-Harare routes yet they give us for long distances such as the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route. We were barred from plying the Bulawayo-Harare route without any clear reasons,” lamented one operator who refused to be named.
He said their businesses were affected greatly as they had to do a lot of negotiating with the traffic police officers.
“Our drivers spend a lot of time on the highway negotiating with the police at road blocks so that they let them pass as they are not allowed to travel those routes and it is a serious challenge. The other thing is that they end up bribing their way if negotiation fails so at the end of the day we lose a lot of money on road blocks from Bulawayo to Harare,” he said.
The National Police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, could not shed light on the issue of traffic officers taking bribes at road blocks and referred all questions back to the transport ministry.
Mrs Mathema said kombis were initially meant to operate as commuter omnibuses within the urban areas and with the passage of time were allowed to ply short distances of not more than 40kms which are peri-urban areas. This made economic sense as smaller vehicles are profitable when they ply short distances in and out of cities within a short space of time.
A ban on 8-seater ex-Japanese vehicles such as Toyota Granvia, Noah, Elgrande and Ipsum from the public transport system was imposed by the Zimbabwe Republic Police recently.
This followed a spate of horrible accidents involving these vehicles that have claimed lives.
The ban only affected the use of these vehicles for public transportation and not for private uses. Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi was quoted in the media saying anyone pirating using these taxis would be arrested.
“Granvias, Ipsums and Noah vehicles – whether they are licensed or not – are not suitable for public transport.
“I want to warn all those operators that the long arm of the law will take its course. Whoever is caught transporting members of the public will be arrested as you are aware that these vehicles have put the lives of people at risk,” he said.