MIKE MUGALA, Lusaka
AFRICA’S inner city public transport system is generally characterised by chaos, typified to non-Africans by the famous Matatus in East Africa. Zambia’s cities, especially Lusaka, shares in this chaos, where the minibuses have earned themselves a bad reputation on the roads.
And so when Government proposed to replace the mini-buses with bigger, newer buses by 2022, in a quest to bring sanity on the roads, the decision was welcomed by commuters, who daily have to travel on the buses.
In fact, most of the minibuses currently on the road are modified cargo vans that offer little comfort.
Government also expects the move to reduce the number of accidents on the roads, which it blames on the minibuses.
But the minibus operators say the decision will negatively affect the country’s economy.
Ismail Kankhara is one of the biggest and influential investors in the sector, with a fleet of about 220 buses. He has been in the transport business for 22 years in the transport business.
He says phasing out minibuses will make the cost of transport become more expensive, and that it will push many operators out business, as many of them cannot afford to buy a brand new bus.
“The current economic situation does not allow business operators to buy new buses because presumptive tax on motor vehicles is very high. It impossible for transporters to bring in new buses because the transport sector in Zambia is not subsidised,” says Mr Kankhara.
His own fleet is made up of second-hand Ford Transit buses he buys from abroad.
One brand new 26-seater bus from Japan costs about K750,000.
Mr Kankhara says moving from minibuses to bigger ones will be very difficult because the transport sector has more minibuses and that the cost of transport will triple.
“Government must come up with proper policies by engaging in experienced transporters. Phasing out minibuses will have a huge negative impact on the poor,” says Mr Kankhara.
To Mr Kankhara, the biggest problem on our roads is drunken driving and not the mini-buses.
He says Government must contain drunken-driving if the number of traffic accidents is to be reduced drastically.
Mr Kankhara says Government’s intention of saving lives is a good initiative but that it lacks proper consultation.
He says there is also need for minibus owners to maintain their buses in order to promote safety.
Another bus owner of Lusaka, Mathews Kalumba, thinks the decision by Government to phase out the minibuses will not only result in loss of income for mini-bus-owners and drivers, but that it will increase poverty levels and unemployment among the youth.
Mr Kalumba, who has been in the transport business for two years now, says phasing out mini-buses will affect the means of survival of many families.
“The transport sector is one of the major sources of employment in our country, it absorbs a huge population of people who have not attained any formal training or education,” he says.
Mr Kalumba thinks phasing out mini-buses will not be a solution to reducing the number of accidents. In fact he argues it is the big buses that kill more people.
“I feel the solution should be restricting the movement of minibuses to short distances,” says Mr Kalumba.
He reckons 70 percent of the vehicles in the transport sector comprise of mini-buses and that phasing them out will be disastrous for the sector.
Mr Kalumba says few Zambians can afford to import brand new bigger buses because the prices are too high.
“A good second hand big Mitsubishi Rosa bus from Japan costs about K250,000 to be imported into the country. Currently only a few people can manage to import such a bus,” he said.
Mr Kalumba says operators prefer mini-buses to big buses because they make more trips and bring in more money.
The announcement by Government has also unsettled the mini-bus drivers.
Lesley Machaya, who is a bus driver, fears that the phasing out of mini-buses will render him jobless and that he will not be able to take care of his family.
Mr Machaya, who has been a mini-bus driver for over four years now, says driving a minibus has become part of his life.
“I’m used to being a mini-bus driver because this is where my bread and butter come from. I am able to provide for my wife and children from the same business,” he says.
Mr Machaya adds: “There is no employment in our country at the moment and most of us are surviving from this same business.”
The Public and Private Drivers Association of Zambia (PPDAZ) is happy that government pushed forward the date for phasing out of the mini-buses from the initial 2019 to 2022.
PPDAZ president Josiah Mujuru says the move will allow minibus owners to have more time to plan and prepare for the shift to the standard required buses.
“Our mandate is to ensure that our drivers have the best employment conditions, the transport sector has more of minibuses than any other vehicles. Phasing out the use of mini-buses in 2019 would have led to massive unemployment and this would have led to increased poverty,” he says.
Mr Mujuru says the phasing out of minibuses must be a gradual process to avoid it from having a negative impact on the economy.
For now, the commuters await sanity in the sector, however it will come.
MIKE MUGALA, Lusaka