Saturday, 9 May 2020

TOUTS TO GET GOVT BAILOUT


Commuter omnibus crews have spent the past 42 days under a coronavirus-induced lockdown, which has wiped off their incomes and stolen their livelihoods.

Although the lockdown regulations were relaxed recently, private transport operators have not been allowed to resume operations for fear that they could be vehicles through which the virus spreads.

Only the State-controlled Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) is currently allowed to provide public transport services. However, Government will provide a helping hand this week, through a cushioning package for those that have been prejudiced.

“As I speak, we are finalising the process of cleaning up data of targeted beneficiaries. Part of the money will be disbursed next week (this week) to this vulnerable group and others,” said Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Permanent Secretary Mr Simon Masanga.

“Due to the lockdown, the process has been a bit slow since we cannot gather recipients in bulk for verification processes. However, we are treating this as a matter of urgency.”

The list of beneficiaries was compiled by the Zimbabwe Union of Drivers and Conductors (Zudac), which represents interests of more than 50 000 registered commuter omnibus drivers, conductors and rank marshals. 

The packages — meant to mitigate the impact of the lockdown — are being hewn from a $600 million kitty set aside by Government to cover vulnerable households under a cash transfer programme for the next three months.

An estimated $200 million will be disbursed each month. However, the exact amount to be received by each beneficiary could not be established.

“Verification is being done in consultation with their representatives.

“We approached Treasury with an appeal for an increase of the amount of money that beneficiaries will get; thus, we are unable to give you the exact figures each individual gets,” added Mr Masanga.

‘Everyone gets something’ For commuter omnibus crews, the reassuring gesture is welcome.

Zudac president Mr Fradrick Maguramhinga indicated that they would ensure “everyone gets something”.

“For the initial batch, we forwarded 5 000 names drawn from across the country. Our provincial offices are currently in the process of compiling more names.

“The process will be done in phases until everyone gets something,” he said.

Statistics from the Central Vehicle Registry show that there are more than 12 000 registered commuter omnibus crews in Harare alone.

It is believed that there is almost an equal number of unregistered operators.

“With an average commuter omnibus crew of three people, this translates to a lot of people directly or indirectly benefiting from this cushioning allowance,” observed Mr Maguramhinga.

Even before the lockdown, private transport operators were already reeling from lost business owing to Zupco’s resurgence.

A lot of people, who include commuter omnibus drivers, conductors and rank marshals, used to feed off operations of public transporters. But they are currently singing the blues.

True to habit, most of those who have been affected continue to mill around erstwhile pick-up and drop-off points in high-density suburbs.

There are also those who are pushing the envelope to resume operations, albeit on a small-scale.

“We have families to feed so I cannot afford to stay home. “I have to do this to survive,” said one commuter omnibus driver before speeding off as a police vehicle on patrol was closing in along the City-Mbare route.

Other groups of touts are now frequenting the Central Business District (CBD) in search of alternative sources of income.

“Life is virtually at a standstill. I have nothing else I can do besides touting. I do not have any form of qualification,” said Kudakwashe Matimbe, who previously operated at Market Square bus terminus.

The Passenger Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) claims that Government’s unprecedented intervention to rescue private operators’ employees was commendable.

Although the latest move will help private transport operators get by, there are real fears in the industry that they might be phased out as investments in mass public transport system continues to rise.

Some operators are increasingly being incorporated through the Zupco franchise. Sunday Mail

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