The Herald (Harare)

21 May 2014

Zimbabwe: Reliable Public Transport System Vital

editorial

THE tragic kombi accident along Seke Road which claimed the lives of 10 people on Monday reminds us all of our mortality and fragility. Just a freak incident and 10 souls are gone. Several others who were injured will likely be permanently disabled.

Reflexively, we want to apportion blame. While people were quick to blame the kombi driver, one of the dead victims, that is certainly not the way to look at it.

Others want to blame the police. What with the many roadblocks on the road. That is nowhere near a solution either.

There is need for a more encompassing look at our public transportation system. This should start with the registration of the vehicle, the owner and who is licensed to drive the vehicle.

A vehicle which does not pass the fitness test should not be allowed on the road. That means we have to fight corruption by punishing those involved.

There should be strict enforcement of speed limits on our roads. Most fatalities are blamed on human error and the major culprit has been found to be excessive speed.

There should be stiff penalties for exceeding the speed limit, with possible imprisonment for repeat offenders.

The police and kombi owners should ensure that the drivers are qualified to drive the type of vehicle they are given, they are of the right temperament to interact with members of the public, they are regularly tested for suitability and take regular defensive driving courses.

An additional measure is to govern the vehicle speed. That should be a fairly simple mechanism to ensure the vehicle does not exceed a predetermined speed, especially in an urban area. That is a sure way of taming the wildest speed devil.

An unfortunate habit of our people is that they will not stand their ground and protest with one voice when it is clear that a driver is being reckless and endangering their lives. Somehow, there will be a lone voice of protest which is instantly drowned by a majority pretending to be in a hurry to get to their varied destinations.

The sad reality is that they hardly ever make it. What often gets to the destination is the devastating news of their untimely death. As a people we need to reconcile ourselves to the reality that we have one life and that we are hardly ever fully in charge of our destiny. That means we have to be responsible and take the responsibility to ensure that we are driven safely.

But all the foregoing still leave everyone vulnerable to unscrupulous kombi drivers. What we need as a nation is a viable public transport system which ensures that people can move from point A to point B in a predictable way. Our roads are overcrowded; in fact they have long exceeded their carrying capacity.

Add to that, the madness of reckless kombi drivers who are forced to meet unrealistic targets by greedy vehicle owners who leave them with little time to rest.

Thousands of those kombis are not regularly serviced, don't have route permits and the drivers are often under-qualified or half drunk most of the time. That's a cocktail for disaster.

Having a reliable public transport system will reduce our people's exposure to these risky options.

The infrastructure cluster under Zim-Asset should get our city authorities and engineers thinking about the way forward. A combination of buses and trains should do the trick. This is a top priority area not just to facilitate commerce but also to save lives. It makes business and moral sense.

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