KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
WITHIN three months of his appointment as Lusaka Inter-City Bus Terminus station manager, Penjani Chirambo and his management team that includes operations manager Angel Musonda and his assistant Darryl Mbilutu identified what needed to be done.
The image of Inter-City has for much of its existence, from the time former President Kenneth Kaunda officially opened it on October 23, 1980, been disreputable.
If you wanted to find a place that epitomised chaos and insanity, this was it.
You could trust Inter-City Bus Terminus, much like other bus stations in Lusaka, to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
A case in point is a February 26, 1999 headline in the Times of Zambia.
Headlined â€œ250 arrested in Lusaka clean-up operationâ€, the story partly read: â€œPolice in Lusaka have picked up 250 people in a clean-up operation aimed at clearing undesirable elements from public places. Lusaka Province commanding officer Bernard Mayonda confirmed that his officers in a bid to safeguard the travelling public launched the operation at Intercity and Lilanda bus stations early in the week.â€
Most of those who were picked up by the police were charged with idling and loitering; not that they were indeed idle in the true sense of the word; these were people busy harassing the travelling public.
You were literally at their mercy as a passenger.
For a while, Inter-City, owing to its notoriety, was closed as major bus operators opened their respective stations in the central business district of Lusaka.
Even after the terminus, which at the time of its opening, was one of the biggest inter-city stations in the southern African region, the bus operators were very reluctant to go back there.
It took a huge amount of effort to convince them to get back there.
But sanity was not immediately restored at the terminus; chaos still reigned.
You had cases where a call boy, without the consent of the traveller, would grab their bag and hurl them to a bus which is not of their choice. You had cases of ghost passengers seated in the bus to make other passengers think that it was almost full, only for them to wait for hours. You had cases of garbage not being collected for days, posing a health hazard to passengers and traders within the terminus.
But now, the complexion has changed, thanks to a raft of measures implemented by management.
â€œWithin three months of my appointment in January 2013 as station manager, I identified areas that needed strengthening and improvement. The terminus is a massive investment for the local authority and has a huge cash generation potential,â€ Mr Chirambo says.
The challenges that were identified included garbage collection and disposal, power outages from Zesco, power overloads, call boys, hawking and water supply to ablution facilities.
As management, they suggested solutions such as procuring a dedicated refuse truck and skip bin, instituting frequent collection procedures, marking skip bins for recycling and disposal (tins, plastics, paper and trash), procuring an industrial generator (150KVA), curtailing all illegal connections in the station including shops trading within and installing of prepaid meters in all permanent and temporal stands or shops.
Other suggested solutions were connecting the gate system to the main generator as automated gates will not operate in cases of power outages, all operator call boys to be in uniform identifiable with the bus operator they are associated with, daily permits for trading within the station and installation of an industrial borehole.
â€œThe state of the station was deplorable. It wasnâ€™t doing well, and there was no sanity. So, our first task was to revamp and improve on the revenue generation for the council, which we did within the shortest possible time,â€ says Mr Chirambo, who was awarded the manager of the year by the council for his performance last year.
â€œThe second priority was to restore sanity in the station, which we achieved both as a council and also at party [Patriotic front] level. In terms of revenue collection, I think itâ€™s the only station or market that has attained 100 percent revenue collection. Previously, it was less than 60 percent and I think at some point, they never reconciled the books.
â€œThe beauty is the people we work with, they [Patriotic Front] have been there to help us. They have said the council has to make its money, and they have been very instrumental in ensuring that that happens. They have been also helpful in stopping violence and unruly behaviour, ensuring that there is sanity.â€
Mr Chiramboâ€™s operations manager agrees.
And he adds: â€œIn terms of security, weâ€™ve improved. Itâ€™s difficult to steal here; we may have cases of one probably stealing from someone who is perhaps dozing in the early hours. We have state police and council police. And in addition to that, we have physical security. You can walk in and out of Inter City freely,â€ Mr Musonda says.
â€œWe had a case of someone who left their luggage here and went to Australia. When they came back six months later, they were able to find it. Weâ€™ve a way of ensuring that there is accountability.â€
The complexion of Inter City will further change when the new modern building which is under construction is completed by March, according to the estimation of the station manager.
â€œThe station was opened in 1980 at the time when there was only UBZ [United Bus Company of Zambia]. But things have changed; we have over 180 buses going out every day, weâ€™re handling about 12,000 passengers. So, weâ€™ve to modernise it. The whole station will be electronic, every bus that comes, weâ€™ll be able to know, which will help us in our accountability,â€ Mr Chirambo says.
â€œOne of the things weâ€™re introducing is e-ticketing, which will improve our revenue collection. Each operator will have a designated ticketing office, and with the e-ticketing, youâ€™ll be able to buy your ticket say from Shoprite. If youâ€™re in Chongwe, you donâ€™t have to come to Inter-City to buy a ticket, you can buy it through your phone.
â€œWith the new building, apart from ticketing offices, weâ€™ll have restaurants, pharmacy, a supermarket, forex bureau, two ATMs [Automated Machines] and banks; money should be able to be deposited within the station. The shops will be proper, what we have now are more like tuntembas.â€
The Inter-City Bus Terminus opened its gates to the public in 1980 as a station directly under the supervision and management of the Lusaka City Council (LCC). It was planned to be, and is still, the largest bus station in the country providing modern services and facilities for passenger transport equivalent to any obtaining in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. It was structured in such a way as to cater and facilitate Zambian inter-city and international routes passenger transportation.
Hopefully, it will be able to play that role efficiently with the new measures being introduced; especially that it is also working with partners like the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) and Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) within the terminus.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka