Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
MAJOR bus termini, depots and popular hiking spots in Bulawayo were yesterday a hive of activity as transport operators resumed inter-city routes amid jostling by travellers as they boarded buses.
The resumption of inter-city travel has also ignited excitement and optimism among the generality of the people, particularly traders whose source of livelihood revolved around buying and selling their wares from different cities in the country.
A popular hiking spot along Harare Road was characterised by chaotic scenes as touts shoved each other, wrestling for passengers.
The principle of social distancing was totally ignored as commuters jostled to board vehicles. Bus crews shrieked in dismay as they competed for passengers with pirate transporters.
Last week, Cabinet gave transport operators plying intercity routes the greenlight to start operating as the country continues to gradually re-open the economy.
Inter-city travel was suspended when the national lockdown started on March 31 to contain the spread of Covid-19 infections. However, on September 15 Cabinet approved proposals for the return of long-distance buses but under strict Covid-19 preventative guidelines informed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Transporters who wish to ferry passengers for inter-city travel are required to register with the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to ensure that they strictly comply with standard operating procedures for their sector which are compliant to the WHO guidelines and all Covid-19 regulations.
A Chronicle news crew yesterday visited Renkini and Entumbane bus termini and selected bus depots in the city and observed that people boarding buses were not maintaining social distancing.
A tout who operates along Harare Road said they operated under the law of the jungle.
“Nothing is regulated here, you eat what you kill, which is why you see us hustling like ants. I earn my money depending on the number of passengers I would have assisted to get transport. That is why you find that each time there will be chaos at such hiking spots,” said a tout who declined to be named.
However, upon boarding buses, passengers were being sanitised and their temperatures checked in line with the stipulated Covid-19 health guidelines.
Renkini Bus Terminus bustled with activity as travellers jostled to board transport to their destinations. Vendors were selling wares to people waiting to board buses. A bus conductor employed by Blue Circle Bus Company, Mr Washington Chiminya said since the resumption of inter-city travel there has been a steady increase in demand for services.
“We resumed services a few days ago after registering with the Vehicle Inspection Depot (VID) as well as complying with the standard operating procedures, which require checking temperature, sanitising our passengers and disinfecting our buses,” he said.
Chronicle also caught up with Imbizo Tours Bus Company owner Mr Imbizo Mpala at Entumbane Country Bus Terminus. Mr Mpala whose buses ply rural routes, said he resumed services yesterday after successfully registering his buses with VID.
He said although business was still low, he was hopeful that it would pick up as people readjusted to the new development.
“We resumed our services today and it is quite refreshing to note that we are already getting inquiries from our traditional customers who relied on us for travel. Business is still very low but, I am hopeful that in the next few days, it will be back to normal business as a majority of people are not yet aware that we are back,” he said.
Imbizo Tours buses ply the Bulawayo-Lupane and Bulawayo-Binga routes.
Extra City Bus Company’s Bulawayo depot manager Mr Jeremiah Chihuri said they were adhering to the standard operating procedures, which include disinfecting premises and buses.
“We are getting people boarding our buses. We make sure that whenever you come to our premises, we sanitise your hands and check your temperature,” he said.
“I think everyone is now appreciating the situation and aware of Covid-19. We also make sure that we disinfect our premises and buses each time they arrive at the depot to curb the spread of Covid-19.”
Mr Chihuri said staff members were tested for Covid-19 prior to resumption of operations in line with the standard operating procedures in the transport sector.
Extra-City Bus Company plies the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls and Bulawayo-Harare routes. A single trip to either Harare or Victoria Falls costs US$13 or the equivalent in local currency.
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza said Government opened up the transport sector for intercity travel to facilitate easy access to resort areas.
“We have opened the inter-city to allow for those areas that are interlinked that have been opened for instance tourism. It has been opened so there is need to link tourists who travel by bus to be able to go to places like Victoria Falls and other areas,” he said.
Minister Matiza said transport operators intending to resumed inter-city services should satisfy the guidelines set by Government.
“I’m happy that many have complied and our roads are being plied by those who did comply,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Gweru, passengers pushed each other to board intercity buses near the Gweru Theatre in total disregard to Covid-19 [email protected]