Mozambique: Bus Owners Go On Strike Against Social Distancing

Maputo — Maputo and the neighbouring city of Matola found themselves virtually without passenger transport on Monday morning, since bus owners had pulled their vehicles off the roads in protest at the social distancing measures imposed by the government under the current state of emergency.

In order to ensure that there is a distance between passengers, and reduce the likelihood of transmission of the Covid-19 respiratory disease, no bus or minibus may carry more than a third of the number of passengers for which it is licensed.

Thus a bus which would normally carry 80 passengers is now limited to carrying 26. A 15 seater minibus may only carry five passengers.

On Monday the bus owners effectively went on strike. They claimed that the limitations imposed under the state of emergency meant the fares they collected would not be enough even to cover their fuel costs.

At the Zimpeto terminal on the outskirts of Maputo, the independent television station STV found 50 buses parked. These buses are owned by cooperatives which have divided the passenger routes in Maputo and Matola between themselves. They say they want to negotiate the situation with the government - in other words, they are asking for subsidies.

At the bus stops large crowds gathered, waiting for the occasional bus that was not on strike. Such crowds do themselves present a threat of Covid-19 transmission. Some people gave up and started walking - although in the greater Maputo area, the distance between workers' homes and their workplaces can be ten kilometres or more.

One company that is not on strike is Metrobus, which operates a combined train and bus service in the Greater Maputo Metropolitan Area. Its managing director, Amad Camal, said that, far from taking buses off the roads, it would increase its fleet, so that it could both satisfy its passengers and meet social distancing requirements.

Bus owners also went on strike in the central city of Quelimane - but the Zambezia Provincial Transport Directorate told STV it would make no concessions and would implement to the full the state of emergency regulations.

Those regulations also ban the use of bicycles and motorbikes as taxis, on the ground that the proximity between the cyclist and his passenger was an invitation for the transmission of Covid-19.

Quelimane is well-known for its bicycle-taxis, and initially the cyclists simply ignored the state of emergency decree. They continued carrying passengers throughout the weekend - but on Monday received an unpleasant shock, when police confiscated the bicycles.

STV filmed the police loading dozens of bicycles onto police trucks and carrying them away. The owners of the bicycles complained bitterly that the police had deprived them of their sole source of income.

In the northern city of Nampula the police struck at motorcycle taxis. On Saturday and Sunday they arrested 15 owners of motorbikes who were continuing to use them as taxis, and charged them with the crime of disobedience.

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