COMMUTER omnibus operators have unilaterally increased fares citing a surge in fuel prices and police roadblocks.
Conventional buses plying the same routes have however, maintained the old fares.VThe worst affected routes are Chitungwiza, Mufakose, Kuwadzana, Glen Norah, Norton and Mabvuku where fares now range between US$1.50 and US$2, up from US50 cents and US$1. Kombi operators said besides the increase in fuel prices, they spend an average of US$40 daily on policemen at roadblocks. "The fuel price hike did not affect us much since our fares are already high enough to cushion that increase of US10 cents per litre.
"The police are the ones causing this hike because we give them three quarters of our money and at the end of the day we have nothing. "There are three permanent road blocks and sometimes five or more from Harare to Chitungwiza. "There is nothing we can do . . . we also need to survive. If we charge R5, it will be as good as we are not working," said a kombi driver who declined to be named.
Said another one who plies the City-Mufakose route: "It's better that we cover up by charging people more."
National Traffic Police spokesperson Inspector Tigere Chigome said: "These people who are making noise do not have valid documents. People with valid papers are stopped at roadblocks, produce their documents and proceed with their business.
"It's those operators without papers who offer bribes to our policemen and our officers will proceed to issue them with tickets.
"If you do a survey at Harare (commuter omnibus) ranks you will realise that about three quarters of these drivers do not have valid licences, medical certificates and their cars are not certified to be on the roads. It's misguided elements that are complaining that there are too many roadbocks. Besides, all this money they overcharge commuters is not going to business owners."
Insp Chigome said those who wanted to hike fares legally were supposed to approach the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development. A commuter from Chitungwiza, who only identified herself as Mrs Chigwaro, said people were now travelling off peak hours.
"It's not fair, some of us commute everyday because we work in Harare. At the end of the day we are late for work because we will be waiting for bigger buses that charge R5," she said. Observers said the latest increase in fuel prices was expected to have a ripple effect on the cost of most goods and services.
They said services providers have been absorbing the effects of the fuel increase on behalf of their consumers for a long time. Fuel prices went up by between US5 cents and US10 cents on the back of a surge on the international market. Transport operators said they had borne the brunt of successive increases of fuel price over the past three months with no corresponding rise in the fares.
Zimbabwe Commuter Omnibus Operators Organisation chairperson Mr Aaron Tapfuma said the fuel price rise affected them. "The higher the cost of fuel, the higher the cost of operations, so the price hikes affect our operations," said Mr Tapfuma. He said they will approach the Government as a first step.
"We will have to talk to the Government first before we do anything like raising fares. We will present our challenges to the Government and we expect it to assist us," said Mr Tapfuma. He said they wanted Government to guarantee them secure money from banks.
"Of course, fares are not controlled and we would want to have uniform fares but commuters want to have good buses that are well serviced. It is in that context that we need Government assistance," he said.
Mr Tapfuma said they will also be submitting a fare price structure that takes into account their operating costs. "What we want is to operate just above the operational costs. We also want loans to buy good buses," he said. Asked why some operators had already hiked fares, Mr Tapfuma said unscrupulous people were bound to be seen in every business.
"Where we are charging R5 per passenger, you will always have an unscrupulous element charging US$1 or more. Unscrupulous elements are found in every industry," he said.