Blessings Chidakwa Municipal Correspondent
Private transport operators with conventional buses and kombis operating under the Zupco franchise are appealing to Government to consider increasing their hire fees with either facilitating access to cheap spare parts or paying them in foreign currency to enable them to maintain their vehicles being the other alternative.
Presently, the transport operators are being paid $4 000 a day for big buses and $1 000 for kombis but feel these fees have been eroded by inflation.
Zupco fares have quadrupled in recent months, with long buses on urban routes charging $4 or $6 depending on the length of the journey, and Zupco kombis charging twice that $8 or $12, depending on journey.
Those fares were built on a doubling of fares since the new Zupco services started, so fares are eight-times higher than at the start of the service. Hire charges have risen, but only after the Government, which pays the hire charges as part of the subsidies, has gone through the actual costs incurred by bus companies and has considered that the hire charges are valid.
Negotiations for revised hire rates are expected to commence this week. Since June 2, 2020 Zupco has been hiring conventional buses at $4 000 and kombis $1 000 per day. But in a letter addressed to Secretary for Local Government and Public Works, Mr Zvinechimwe Churu on Friday, the Greater Harare Association of Commuter Operators (GHACO) sought an urgent meeting with Government to discuss the challenges at Zupco.
“Further to our letters of May 4 (and) June 16, 2020 requesting an urgent review of hire fees, we kindly request for an urgent meeting to highlight and discuss with you these issues including inadequate kombi hire fees of $1 000 against $4 700 total cost per kilometre,” read the letter.
It adds that high inflation, late reviews and late payments of hire fees, were adversely impacting their operations. The operators are also calling for assistance with cheaper spare parts for the kombis under the Zupco franchise, so that they spend more time on the road than in garages.
GHACO secretary general, Mr Ngoni Katsvairo, said on Sunday that they were likely going to meet Government this week.
“We want our hire fees reviewed from $1 000 per day to $4 700 (for kombis),” he said. “We also want to table a proposal to Government that it pays us in US dollars, about US$65 per day via nostro accounts as spare parts suppliers demand foreign currency or exorbitant charges in local currency, which are beyond our reach.”
Mr Katsvairo said the proposed US$65 would cater for all operational costs and their 15 percent mark-up. In an interview yesterday, Mr Churu said there was a possibility of an increase in hire fees any time soon. However, Mr Churu said more details would be availed after Government meets the operators.
“Prices for most commodities have been increasing so there is a high possibility that the hiring fees for conventional buses and commuter omnibuses will be reviewed,” he said.
“There is need to strike a balance between viability of the operators, Zupco and the paying public. Income should be generated from the business itself, but as Government we also want to protect passengers as well from the high transport cost.”
The commuting public has been spending a lot of time at terminuses as demand for transport rises, along with suspicions that some operators are not fulfilling their Zupco contracts over frequency of services.
Government sees the provision of subsidised transport as a critical non-financial incentive for those needing transport and the Zupco franchising as a way of bringing the previously wayward kombi owners into a controlled and managed system.