‘Plug holes in Zupco system’ …Alarm bells ring over accidents

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Tendai Chara

THE Passenger Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ), an association representing the commuting public, is not impressed with the goings-on at the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) and is demanding action.

This comes in the wake of a spate of accidents involving the bus company, begging several questions. Is it about lack of training for the bus drivers? Or could it be lack of experience, negligence or long working hours? Or perhaps mechanical failure?

PAZ president Tafadzwa Goliati has called upon the public utility to put its house in order or risk losing the confidence of commuters.

“As PAZ, we have written many letters to a number of Government departments complaining about speeding by Zupco drivers. However, we did not get any response,” Goliati said.

He suggested that buses should have speed-regulating devices installed on them, something that has already been assented to by Zupco bosses.

“After a spate of road accidents involving public transporters, Rwanda restricted the speed of commuter buses. This has reduced the accident frequency rate by half. Zimbabwe should do the same, starting with Zupco,” added Goliati.

Goliati said Zupco must check on the fitness of its drivers before they embark on journeys.

“We have had instances in which some Zupco drivers are heard complaining about not being in good health. Passengers often complain that some of the drivers come to work visibly drunk or tired,” said Goliati.

According to PAZ, the majority of Zupco drivers are not adequately trained or experienced. However, Evaristo Madangwa, the Zupco chief executive officer, refuted the allegations.

Goliati also called on Zupco to urgently find ways of curbing alleged rampant ticketing scams, which he said were also affecting innocent passengers.

“Zupco must, as a matter of urgency, put in place mechanisms that will put an end to the ticket scams. Some passengers were arrested and fined after they were found in possession of used tickets. Our investigations revealed that the tickets had been issued by Zupco conductors,” Goliati said.

He, however, said some passengers were in the habit of keeping tickets and using them the next day.

“We also have criminal elements who are keeping tickets for re-use. But that too shows a weakness in the Zupco system. However, as an organisation which represents passengers, we are calling for our members to desist from such activities.”

In the first four months of 2019 alone, at least 100 Zupco conductors were fired for financial misconduct after Zupco resuscitated operations. But sources privy to developments at the company indicated that thenumber of employees fired for various misdemeanours has since risen to alarming levels.

“There has always been massive recruitment since Zupco resumed operations. However, a huge chunk of the hired workforce has since been fired for a number of reasons ranging from fraud, incompetence and negligence,” revealed one of the employees plying the Harare-Chitungwiza highway.

Staff identity fraud

The recent arrest of a Harare man who was allegedly manufacturing counterfeit Zupco staff identity cards for sale to fraudsters who would then use them to enjoy free rides should be a cause for concern for the public utility.

Farai Sangombe was arrested by a team of detectives working with the company’s loss control officers after a trap was set.

Zupco bus crews offer free rides to their colleagues and employees of other bus companies. Fraudsters are therefore taking advantage of this arrangement to defraud the bus company.

The fake identity cards were being sold for $80. It is unclear for how long the scam had run or the amount Zupco might have been prejudiced of.

Sangombe’s arrest came hard on the heels of the arrest of another man who was masquerading as a Zupco employee to defraud job seekers on the pretext that he could facilitate their employment at the company.

The fraudster was charging US$15 for the alleged services.

Ticket scams

Although the above fraudulent activities put a dent on Zupco, the news that the public utility dismissed scores of conductors for financial mismanagement did a lot of damage to its image.

Conductors are allegedly re-issuing tickets and then pocketing the proceeds of the ticket sales. Sources at Zupco confided in The Sunday Mail Society that the number of conductors that have been fired for financial mismanagement can go up to a thousand.

Basing on the huge number of conductors that were caught siphoning Zupco coffers, the company might have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And it appears Zupco is struggling to put an end to this looting.

“Almost on a weekly basis, conductors are being fired for re-using tickets and other fraudulent activities. This, in my view, means that the company has failed to put in place mechanisms that can stop conductors from dipping into the company coffers,” the source said.

After being caught on the wrong side of the law, some of the former conductors, among them a law student, were brought before the courts.

Their cases are still pending.

Road traffic accidents

A recent spate of tragic road accidents involving Zupco buses, which claimed the lives of eight passengers and left close to 90 others injured, once again put the public utility under the microscope.

In less than two weeks, buses belonging to the company were involved in serious road accidents in Kadoma, Kwekwe and Beatrice along the Harare-Masvingo highway.

One of the Zupco buses overturned at the 57-kilometre peg along the Harare–Masvingo highway, leaving 27 people injured.

Goliati called upon Zupco to have a re-look at its safety mechanisms. He stressed on the need to hire adequately trained and experienced drivers

He said Zupco should have its own driver-training school.

“Zupco should have its own training school, must strictly adhere to timetables and should not overload. The many accidents are a clear indication that something is definitely wrong somewhere,” Goliati said.

But Madangwa refuted claims that his company was hiring inexperienced drivers.

He, however, said the company was looking at ways of reducing the accident frequency rate.

“As we speak, we are in the process of installing speed limiting gadgets. As far as our recruitment policy is concerned, we only hire experienced drivers whom we are retraining so that they can catch up with the new equipment that we are acquiring,” Madangwa said.

On ticket scams, Madangwa encouraged the public to report any suspicious activities by Zupco employees.

At its peak, it operated more than 450 routes, with a fleet of 1 200 buses.

In its heyday, Zupco was the favourite mode of transport for both rual and urban commuters as it adhered to strict timetables.

It also had an effective, time-saving ticketing system. The de-regulation of the urban transport system marked the downfall of the company as it failed to compete with private buses and commuter omnibuses, resulting in the dwindling of its market share.

Government recently revived the Zupco system, which is expected to end the chaos, profiteering and tout menace within the local public transport sector.

Hard-pressed commuters are optimistic  that Zupco will return to its former glory and ease the strain on their pockets.