Rejuvenating the economy: Part Three…efficient public transport essential

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WHEN attending commerce and management of business classes, we are taught that transport is one of the main factors in running a business or economy.
The transportation of people and goods facilitates for the exchange of goods and is the foundation of trade after the production stage.
The producer must transport the goods to the wholesaler, the wholesaler to the retailers and the retailers must transport them to the market to make them available for the final consumer.
An efficient transportation system is one which cuts costs and saves time, especially when trading in perishable commodities in order to minimise waste.
Zimbabwe’s transportation network has sadly deteriorated over the decades.
In the 1990s, heavy and bulky goods could be seen regularly being transported by rail via goods trains.
There were very organised public transport services such as ZUPCO buses that travelled around the country on fixed departure and arrival times, and also fixed routes.
People used to also use rail transport particularly on long distance trips.
Nowadays, the rail transport is almost completely out of service.
Besides the very pricey bus companies, buses do not have fixed departure and arrival times. The buses only take off when they are full and this could take hours after one has already boarded.
To make matters worse, there are commuter omnibuses which are often second-hand Japanese mini-buses that have very little leg-room.
Regardless of the small size, in order to maximise on profits, the commuter omnibuses demand that four people sit on seats designed for three passengers.
The rides are very uncomfortable and are even worse when passengers carry luggage and a conductor or two, stand towering over the seated passengers to collect fares and shout out stopping points to the driver.
These commuter omnibuses often lack legal paperwork which make them targets for the police. They hunt down such commuter omnibuses in order to fine them and not necessarily to remove unfit vehicles or drivers from the road.
This causes the police and commuter omnibuses to play ‘cat and mouse’ leading to many accidents and at times, death.
Why do passengers have to suffer from these inconveniences?
The suffering does not end with passengers, but affects the economy at large because people cannot get to where they wish on time. There is no certainty of safety nor punctuality when using Zimbabwean public transport nowadays.
As if this chaos is not enough, there is now a danger of rickety unregistered vehicles that have invaded the commuting public. These are significantly smaller that mini-buses and are supposed to be five-seat cars, however, they carry seven-to-nine people with some passengers crammed in the boot if necessary.
These mushikashikas would not have thrived if Zimbabwe’s public transport system had been efficient in the first place.
Even taxis in Zimbabwe no longer run with reasonable meters.
No wonder these unglamorous transport alternatives are finding a niche and are thriving, though people dislike them!
In neighbouring South Africa, buses still have fixed schedules.
Commuter omnibuses are in good condition and accommodate the number of people prescribed for the seats available.
There are no conductors as passengers can be heard clearly by the driver and can also pass the fares to him.
In China, bus lines have fixed routes and timetables regardless of whether the bus is full or not. The cities are well planned in terms of transportation and anyone can go anywhere by simply changing bus lines.
Chinese cities like Shanghai also have efficient subway systems and both are used by the public to get around.
The fares of buses do not fluctuate.
Most buses cost 2 Yuan which is less than 30 US cents and this has been the case for the past 10 years.
If one uses the same bus line to return within 30 minutes, he/she is charged half that price if using a transport card.
The transport card is basically plastic money for buses, taxis, subways and even ships around the city.
This eliminates the need for a conductor.
Passengers enter only through the driver’s side and exit from the back. That way the driver can ensure that everyone who entered has paid. The buses within the city are shuttle vehicles that allow for some to sit and others to stand while holding on to supports.
Special preference to seating is given to the elderly, pregnant, disabled and women holding babies.
The elderly also have old people’s cards that do not require payment when they get on board.
The buses only stop at bus stops that are stipulated and displayed clearly.
One can see what time the next bus is arriving at each bus stop because the buses are tracked and the information is displayed on digital screens. The stops that the buses will make along with the starting and ending times are also written. All this facilitates for a working economy and helps the public plan and navigate well.
The buses are not run by private companies but by the Government.
The taxis have functional meters and there is also a transport service named ‘didi’. This involves taxi services being offered by registered private cars. These are often cheaper than conventional taxis and can be found anywhere near you in any part of China. They use GPS technology to track the soon-to-be passenger and to find the quickest route to the destination.
In the US, there is a similar service called ‘Uber’. With such efficient transportation of people, business and work can be undertaken timeously. Another important aspect of transportation is delivery.
When one makes an order, the transportation of goods ordered is necessary in order to complete the transaction.
China has perhaps the world’s most efficient delivery system. They have good postal services that are very reasonably priced. These can function both internationally and locally. Besides this, when people are living in the city, their needs can be satisfied without having to physically go into a store to buy food, clothes and so on. One can simply call or order online and have his/her order delivered to the doorstep.
There are several companies that have small vehicles that do not qualify to be called cars. These are basically motor bikes with a carriage at the rear.
These are not expensive and consume significantly less fuel than actual cars.
No wonder their charges are so reasonable, they do not incur many costs.
The food industry is also heavily dependent on these delivery services. Many restaurants offer their own delivery services for free as long as one lives in close proximity and has spent a certain amount of money.
These often use bicycles and scooters.
There are also specialised food delivery companies like ‘Elema’ which literally means: ‘Are you hungry?’
These have a delivery charge but are not too concerned with the buyer’s distance from the store. One can order cooked food, fruits and even groceries in the comfort of one’s home.
This leads to a dynamic city life whereby the distance between the supplier and the consumer does not become a hindrance to the conduct of business. In turn, the market flourishes and so does the economy. In Zimbabwe, the transport charges are unreasonable and reflect the companies’ or individuals’ greed at the expense of good business ethics.
This is why the Government has to be involved in the public transport sector at least to a degree that ensures that the public is not cheated or abused.
In China, the transport and delivery industry is aware that what they offer is a service, not a commodity, thus their charges are based almost solely on vehicle and fuel costs and not market speculation.
If similar measures are taken to improve public transport and delivery services in Zimbabwe, the economy will benefit immensely and undoubtedly grow.

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