THE Zimbabwe Passenger Company (Zupco) is on the cusp of catastrophic collapse with simmering indications that private operators contracted to provide buses have since ditched the state-owned public transporter over failure by the parastatal to meet its obligations.
The state-run bus company has been getting additional buses from private operators to supplement its fleet but violation of contractual obligations has forced some private operators to withdraw their fleet.
The privately-owned buses were Zupco branded.
This, however, created more competition for Zupco following a reprieve by the government in May this year paving way for private operators to operate. Several private transport operators were banned from plying several routes during the Covid-19 period.
The return of private transporters has reportedly pushed Zupco out of a number of urban routes amid indications that the government transporter is struggling to maintain its dominance on the routes.
According to sources, management at Zupco mulls a massive retrenchment programme that could affect thousands of employees who were recruited during the Covid-19 period.
“Government went on a massive recruitment drive when Zupco became the dominant player, especially during the lockdown period. Zupco was also targeting graduates and students at tertiary institutions who were employed as conductors and rank monitors controlling the buses movements, especially in urban areas,” the sources said.
Zupco, which is run under the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, also tried to acquire buses to boost its fleet but has been facing challenges.
The Independent successfully sued the government to provide details on how the buses were being imported into the country.
In a landmark ruling, the High Court ordered the government to provide the information in a case brought by the Independent and Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ).
“The arrangement was doomed from the start because of a variety of reasons including the conditions of buses that were brought back on the roads. The service was also hounded by the arrangements between Zupco and the transporters, especially on the payment system after the service was provided,” the sources said.
The problems, the sources added, were further compounded by heavily subsidised fares Zupco was charging the travelling public.
“Zupco was charging subsidised fares and these were not viable but the main problem was the viability of the venture,” the sources told the Independent this week.
Zupco was also forced to review its fares regularly and doubled its fares at the end of August this year as management tried to keep the company afloat.
“The challenge with Zupco is the time the buses spend on the road especially when people are rushing to work,” the sources said.
There are reports that some touts have also been attacking Zupco staff as the battle for routes escalated since May.
“There are some routes where Zupco has been completely barred from plying, especially in urban areas. Some of the operators have also been forced to remove Zupco logos for fear of attacks,” the sources said.
To add to Zupco’s woes, 36 employees have sued the company for terminating their contracts before their expiry date, unpaid salaries and terminal benefits.
The former employees have since approached the National Employment Council (NEC) demanding that Zupco pay their dues.
Approached for comment, Zupco chief executive Evaristo Mudangwa requested questions in writing but had not responded since last week.
Local Government ministry spatial planning and development chief director Shingirayi Mushamba told the Independent that the government was seized with the Zupco matter.
He, however, failed to respond to the written questions he had requested by the time of going to print.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Union of Drivers and Conductors (Zudco) president and spokesperson Fradreck Maguramhinga dismissed assertions that private-public transporters were muscling out Zupco from urban routes.
The Zudco, formed in 2010, has the largest number of transporters in terms of membership in Zimbabwe with a 60 000 membership employing at least 120 000 workers.
“We know that there are rogue elements who know that Zupco does not pay for touting so these are the ones who could be causing problems. There are close to a million people who are directly or indirectly employed through the union and the government’s decision to ban us affected a lot of people,” Maguramhinga said.
He said poverty levels in the sector rose astronomically during lockdown and transporters had to join the Zupco bandwagon when the government approached.
“However, our members who got the Zupco contracts did not enjoy the benefits from the contracts as the company delayed paying for services. Payments were delayed by up two months in some cases,” Maguramhinga added.