LONG distance bus operators yesterday unilaterally increased fares, resulting in hordes of people intending to travel to various destinations congesting illegal pick-up points to hitch-hike amid calls by the police for transporters to stick to gazetted fares.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Andrew Phiri said those found charging more than the gazetted fares would be arrested.
"When they are given those route permits, there are gazetted fares on them and we expect them to stick to that.
"Any flouting of that would attract the full wrath of the law. No one should cash in and surprise travellers."
Supt Phiri said all public vehicles should carry with them tables with gazetted fares.
Private motorists who charge relatively lower fares were cashing in on the situation.
Most travellers were eager to leave the city yesterday for their rural homes to enjoy the extended holiday following the declaration of Monday as a public holiday.
The country marks Unity Day today.
Most firms closed for business yesterday.
The congestion was worsened by civil servants who received their bonuses this week.
Buses plying the Harare-Mutare route were charging US$10, up from US$6, while a trip to Beitbridge from Harare cost US$18 instead of US$15.
People travelling to Bulawayo were paying US$16, up from US$12, while those travelling to Mberengwa were being charged US$20 instead of US$15.
The fare for a trip to Juru Growth Point, popularly known as kwaBhora, went up from US$2 to US$6.
Bus drivers attributed the surge in prices to increased demand.
"This is the time for us to make profits and we are not going to relax," said one of the drivers.
Some drivers accused the police of increasing roadblocks, hence their need for more money to pass through.
Transport, Communications and Infrastructure Development Minister Nicholas Goche warned public transport operators not to take advantage of the festive season to use defective vehicles.
"It is the operators' obligation to ensure that their buses are not overloaded, drivers are not under the influence of alcohol and to encourage their drivers to stick to the regulated speed limits as speeding is one of the major causes of fatal accidents," he said.
"My ministry will deal decisively with any operators whose drivers behave in a manner that disregards the sanctity of human life."
"It is my fervent hope that the forthcoming Christmas and New Year holidays be accident-free. This is possible if all drivers exercise due caution and adhere to all traffic laws."
Meanwhile, scores of Zimbabweans have thronged Musina and Makhado towns in South Africa for shopping as the Christmas fever reaches its peak.
Musina is located 12km away from the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, while Makhado is 100km away.
Zimbabwe-registered vehicles were dominant in the towns this week.
Most of them were laden with groceries which are cheaper across the border.
Other Zimbabwean shoppers bought clothes and household goods.
Some shop owners in the two towns said business was brisk to the extent of overwhelming them and they had to increase stocks to cater for the demand.
Some clothing shops in Musina ran out of stock due to high demand.
"Every year during the festive season, we come to buy groceries and clothing items here because they are relatively cheaper," said Taurai Chekenya who was seen shopping in Makhado.
"I had to travel to Makhado because most of the clothing shops in Musina have run out of stock."
An Asian trader at the popular China Centre in Musina said they had ordered enough stock in preparation for the festive season.
Taxis could be seen shuttling between the towns and Beitbridge border post, ferrying groceries.
Illegal foreign currency dealers in both countries are also capitalising on the situation as many people exchange their United States dollars for South African currency for shopping.
Activity at Beitbridge border post increased yesterday as more Zimbabweans based in South Africa flocked back home for the festive season.
Assistant Regional Immigration officer in charge of Southern Region (Beitbridge) Charles Gwede said about 20 000 people were accessing the border post daily.
He said during off peak times they handled between 6 000 and 9 000 travellers.
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra's) director of corporate and legal affairs Ms Florence Jambwa said they added more officers at Beitbridge with the view of ensuring efficiency and quality services during the holidays.
The festive season has started on a sad note with at least 48 people having died, while 269 others were injured in road accidents recorded from December 15 up to yesterday.
According to police statistics, 404 accidents were recorded during the same period, with 32 of them being fatal.
The accidents have been attributed to speeding, overloading, overtaking errors, vehicle defects and negligent pedestrians.
Acting national police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Luckmore Chakanza said the police would remain heavily deployed on the roads for the entire festive season.
He said they would not hesitate to arrest anyone found violating any traffic regulations and those found on the wrong side of the law.
At least 147 people were killed during the entire festive period last year, while 1 304 others were injured in road accidents.
According to police statistics, 1 785 accidents were recorded during the same period.
Police national traffic (operations) Assistant Commissioner Kenny Mtombeni said since January this year to October, a total of 28 929 accidents were recorded as compared to 26 500 recorded during the same period last year.
He said most of the accidents were attributed to speeding, failing to give way, following too close to another vehicle and overtaking errors.
Asst Comm Mtombeni said the festive season was historically associated with disregard of road rules and laws which leads to accidents and loss of lives as well as damage to property.
"The police have a constitutional obligation to maintain law and order, to save lives and prevent damage to property," he said.
"This can only be achieved with your (the public) positive contribution in the fight against the accident scourge."
Asst Comm Mtombeni said for efficient and effective policing in traffic they partnered with other stakeholders that include the Vehicle Inspection Department and the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe.
"As we approach the festive season road traffic accidents are likely going to increase as a result of multiple factors that include traffic congestion, overloading and excitement," he said.
"I therefore urge the motoring public and commuters to abide by the rules and regulations of the road before, during and after the festive season."
Asst Comm Mtombeni urged all traffic police officers to shun corruption and exhibit professionalism in their daily duties.
He said the public should report any cases of bribery and corruption.
"While I acknowledge that corruption is rampant in public and private sector, I would like to stress that it takes two to tango," said Asst Comm Mtombeni.
"I, therefore, urge members of the motoring community to desist from the culture of budgeting money to pay bribes to our police officers."