Fake Zupco Kombies have flooded the streets of Harare paving their way back on the road, using fake Zupco stickers to deceive both the security agents and passengers.
This follows an indefinite Government ban on private transport operators.
The move by government meant that only Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) buses and those operating under its franchise are allowed to operate.
It, however, has not taken long for the notorious kombi crews to reinvent themselves under the guise of registered franchisees.
Presently, only the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) and commuter omnibuses operating under its franchise are allowed to ferry travellers.
However, the service is failing to meet rising demand, especially at a time when the buses can only accommodate limited passengers as a result of current social distancing measures.
Each bus is expected to ferry a maximum of 32 passengers per trip while commuter omnibuses carry eight.
Also, each bus is subjected to fumigation at least twice a day; thus, the time required to perform the exercise is understood to have greatly diminished Zupco’s ability to operate timeously.
Private-owned commuter omnibuses (kombis) were suspended when the lockdown began on March 30, but the ban has since been extended indefinitely as Government tries to create an organised mass public transport system.
Though noble, the decision is taking a toll on commuters.
Thousands of urban travellers across the country are at risk of contracting the coronavirus as most are resorting to unregulated and often crowded transport.
Banned kombi crews, pirate taxis (mushika-shika) and private motorists have moved in to fill the vacuum.
The Sunday Mail Society bumped into a man in Highfield who had a stash of Zupco stickers.
After making an enquiry, the man became hostile.
“What do you need the information for?” he queried.
We, however, later discovered that he bought the insignia from an informal business centre in Gazaland or paGaza (Highfield).
“It is not kombis alone that are using fake stickers, even some privately-owned buses are operating disguised as Zupco,” revealed Kennedy Zenze, a kombi driver.
His shabbily dressed colleague was quick to add: “The Zupco emblem is all you need for easy passage on the road. During peak hours, there are usually long, winding queues, so passengers use any form of transport that comes their way and rarely complain about fares since they will be eager to reach their destinations with little or no hassle.”
Most commuters who have fallen victim to the fake Zupco buses say the tell-tale signs are both the operating times and the fare.
These rogue operators often charge more than the stipulated fares of $2 and $4 for a bus and commuter omnibus trip, respectively.
They also do not observe social distancing or other recommended health guidelines.
According to current Government policy, buses must ferry a maximum of 32 passengers, while commuter omnibuses are allowed eight travellers per trip.
“It is the passengers’ option. We are not forcing anyone. We do not load every Zupco bus but specific ones. One decides on whether to wait for long in the queues or just make use of the relatively cheaper options. After all, there is no big difference between $4 and $10 compared to convenience,” said Tapfuma Tigere, a tout who recently resumed operations.
But where are these fake stickers coming from? The Sunday Mail Society can reveal that fake Zupco insignia of different dimensions is readily available on the market.
Prices differ with orders, but the cheapest set of the labels for a single kombi is being sold for US$15.
Original Zupco stickers do not have any particular security features and only contain a fleet number, company logo, Zimbabwe Bird and contact details.
Moreover, there is no approved standard size of the labels for conventional buses or commuter omnibuses.
Equally, there is no specific requirement on placing of the sticker on the vehicle.
Automatically, this creates an easy conduit for counterfeit labels.
Apparently, Zupco labels are done by a private contractor — Headline Communications.
“We do not have security features, so it is difficult for passengers to tell which one is fake or genuine,” said Zupco northern division depot manager, Mr Fungai Muchena.
“Each vehicle under Zupco has a fleet number at the front, just below the screen, on the right side. However, on other vehicles, it is on the left side. We are also working on having stickers at the back of each vehicle.”