Blessings Chidakwa Municipal Correspondent
THE Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) has dispatched about 80 of its newly-acquired 122 buses to long-distance routes countrywide, bringing relief to travellers.
The buses charge subsidised fares as part of the Government’s efforts to provide safety nets for the poor.
Zupco buses, including hundreds of franchised kombis, have made a mark on most urban routes countrywide.
The sharing of the transport utility’s buses between rural and urban routes follows President Mnangagwa’s decision that rural communities should also benefit from the affordable mass public transport project. Zupco now also services cross-border routes like Malawi, Botswana and Zambia.
The firm deliberately committed older conventional buses to urban routes which are shorter and run at lower speed and also because maintenance yards are close by in case of a breakdown.
As of yesterday, Zupco was charging $60 for a trip from Harare to Mutare, while private operators charged $100.
On the busy Harare-Bulawayo route, Zupco charges $100, private conventional buses $160 and luxury coaches $400.
For Harare-Chiredzi via Masvingo Zupco charged $100 while private bus companies ranged between $160 and $180.
Luxury coaches were charging three times the fares charged by private operators on the same routes.
Long-distance routes being serviced by Zupco include Murambinda, Nyamapanda, Mutoko, Murehwa, Binga, Victoria falls, Kariba, Beitbridge, Mataga, Chipinge, Nyanga and Kanyemba.
Zupco has also reintroduced an advance booking facility on long-distance routes, for a premium which guarantees a seat without queuing.
A visit to Mbare Musika Bus Terminus in Harare showed that Zupco was accepting all forms of payment without adding premiums, while private bus operators were demanding up to 30 percent extra on EcoCash transactions.
Zupco regional operational manager Mr Tito Chirau said they were targeting to route a bus to every growth point for starters and to all rural areas in the long-term.
Mr Chirau said the criteria to assign the buses was determined by the state of roads.
“The newly-acquired buses, white in colour, are the ones plying long distance routes, but we are in the process of refurbishing the old ones so that they can assist in plying rural routes with dirty roads,” he said.
“Our traditional buses (blue in colour) are the ones that are plying cross border routes and our fares like always are way below what the other buses are charging.”
Mr Chirau said the transport utility was expecting more buses in the steady growth of its fleet, with phased growth expected to bring the fleet up to 3 000 buses.
President Mnangagwa has authorised deals with companies in Belarus and China to deliver new batches regularly.
“There is high demand for Zupco buses now and the response from passengers is overwhelming that we had to take a section of Mbare Bus Terminus for use by our own buses only,” he said.
Mr Chirau said Zupco was giving other companies a run for their money.
“There are a handful of incidents where officials from other buses would be fighting for our potential clients, but we are managing to resolve that amicably.
“Some of the bus companies, including Inter Africa, we contracted them for the urban area routes. So if there is a challenge we know whom to contact directly, so we are enjoying cordial relations,” he said.
A passenger travelling from Harare to Mutare, Mr Trynos Matenda, praised the Government for extending Zupco operations to long distances.
“I am travelling with my family and we have saved $120 on three people by boarding Zupco paying $60 per person compared to other buses which are charging $100.
“This is a welcome move by the Government and we hope the buses would be introduced to even the remotest areas in the country,” he said.
Zupco’s fleet comprises 516 conventional buses and 458 kombis, with many of them privately-owned but operating under franchise.