IT IS the only industry in Zambia where cash is exchanged in thousands per second. It is also an industry with huge potential to contribute to government revenue.
However, the public transport sector has for a long time remained chaotic and its contribution to the treasury is negligible despite being a multi-million dollar industry.
The downside, according to transport expert Frank Mulala, is the lack of a routing policy.
Mr Mulala, who owns the Zambia-Botswana Express, holds that Zambiaâ€™s bus industry remains chaotic due to the absence of a routing policy which has contributed to congestion of the central business district (CBD) as all commuter buses originate and terminate there.
A routing policy is an arrangement where every route has a specific number of buses. It is one bus, one route, meaning one bus can only go to one route and operates on the basis of the local authorities or road authorities issuing time slots.
The lack of a routing policy has also seen the sector, which should be driven by local people, being dominated by foreigners and this has contributed to volatility of the local currency.
Most of the buses are foreign-owned and this means that there is a lot of capital flight which puts pressure on bureaux de change and commercial banks as demand for the greenback is constant.
Mr Mulala says non-implementation of the routing policy which was mooted over 10 years ago is responsible for the state in which the bus industry is in.
The routing policy, which took seven years to compile after study tours to 16 countries, is designed to empower Zambians.
Mr Mulala contends that if Zambian transport operators were given slots, money would remain in the economy and the country would have more foreign exchange in its reserves.
â€œWe have allowed foreigners to venture into an industry meant for locals instead of setting up manufacturing industries,â€ Mr Mulala says.
â€œIt (routing policy) has requirements, only Zambians should be allowed to be in the bus industry,â€ he says.
Currently, Mr Mulala says, the bus industry in Zambia is dominated by foreigners.
â€œThere is a routing policy in countries where these foreigners come from, we have allowed them to go into an industry where they have established themselves permanently,â€ Mr Mulala says.
Mr Mulala says the Patriotic Front (PF) government has an opportunity to implement the routing policy because it is pro-poor.
â€œIf we delay further, this industry will cause more havoc to the economy, it is high time Zambia started sealing the bottom of the economy,â€ he says.
The sector, which mints thousands per day, employs thousands most of whom are casuals and are not captured by either the National Pensions Scheme Authority (NAPSA) or the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA).
â€œMost of the jobs are informal, conductors are employed by drivers,â€ Mr Mulala says.
He says the bus industry is the major cause of streetism, adding that most of the street children in Zambia are created by the bus industry which offers them jobs, thus promoting child labour.
â€œThe bus industry needs attention and the political will at the highest level. Using the routing policy, you can fix a lot of issues,â€ Mr Mulala says.
He further states that the lack of a routing policy which should put Zambians in the driving seat of the bus industry poses a serious security risk to the country because foreigners could buy as many buses as possible without Government verifying their sources of income.
Mr Mulala says proceeds from the bus industry in Zambia could be funding rogue groups outside the country.
â€œIt is dangerous to maintain this industry without a routing policy because it compromises the security of the nation,â€ he says.
In the absence of a routing policy, public transport fails to become an alternative to motorists.
If implemented, a routing policy will help re-organise intra-town public transport and decongest the central business district.
For instance, people from Chelston travelling to Chilenje in Lusaka will no longer have to transit through town and vice versa.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.