Zimbabwe has long struggled with issues of congestion, safety, and regulation in its public transport system. One of the ways the government has attempted to address these issues is by introducing a law that fines passengers who are picked up or dropped off at undesignated stations. However, questions remain about the feasibility of enforcing this law and its potential impact on a largely informal and unregulated sector. In this, I will examine some of the challenges and implications of this controversial law.
The announcement by the Local Government and Public Works in Zimbabwe that passengers picked up or dropped off at undesignated stations in and around central business districts of towns and cities will now be liable to US$30 fines has elicited mixed reactions from the public. The law, which has been in place since 2016, prohibits the picking up and dropping off of passengers at undesignated points, with offenders facing the risk of clamping and towing of their vehicles, as well as arrest by the police. While the authorities have argued that the law is meant to restore sanity in the city, its enforceability remains a matter of concern.
The Challenge of Signage
One of the major challenges that the authorities face in enforcing this law is the issue of signage. According to Statutory Instrument 41 of 2016 of the Road Traffic (Traffic Signs and Signals) Regulations, local authorities should ensure that signs are erected to prohibit pedestrians from being picked up and dropped off at undesignated points. The SI reads in part: “This prohibition on hitch-hiking is effective for a distance of 500 metres beyond such a sign.” However, the absence of adequate signage in most towns and cities has made it difficult for the authorities to enforce this law effectively.
In a country where most roads are poorly maintained, and signage is either non-existent or in a state of disrepair, enforcing the law that requires signs to be erected to prohibit passengers from being picked up or dropped off at undesignated points becomes not only a daunting task but smacks of hypocrisy. The lack of signage also creates confusion among passengers, who are not sure which areas are designated for picking up or dropping off. This confusion often leads to passengers being picked up or dropped off at undesignated points, which in turn attracts a US$30 fine. It also shows how the authorities in Zimbabwe like to lord it over citizens while they shirk their duty. It’s a classic case of one law for the commoners and another law for the ruling elite.
The idea of designating specific areas for picking up and dropping off of passengers is not new in Zimbabwe. In the past, the government has tried to enforce similar laws, but the efforts have been largely unsuccessful. For instance, in 2007, the government introduced a law that required kombis (minibuses) to use designated pick-up and drop-off points. The law was aimed at reducing congestion and accidents in the city. However, the law was not enforced effectively, and kombis continued to pick up and drop off passengers at undesignated points, leading to chaos and congestion in the city.
The government of Zimbabwe has tried to introduce other draconian laws and regulations in the past and failed miserably. Their latest attempt to do this came in the form of the ZUPCO monopoly. Propped using taxpayers’ money they first seemed like they were trying to revive ZUPCO in 2018 before using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to ban private operators from the urban transport sector. It got so ridiculous they introduced NRZ ZUPCO committer trains. That effort went nowhere and was only scrapped this year.
The failure to enforce past laws aimed at regulating the transport sector in the country is a clear indication that the enforcement of the law requiring passengers to pay US$30 for being picked up or dropped off at undesignated stations is likely to fail. This is because it shares similar traits not least of which is the dictatorial, father knows best, paternalistic drive that inspires these laws. There is no consultation or any effort to be reasonable. These guys want to enforce a law they think is best based on their old-fashioned view of towns. Never mind the fact that a lot has changed in urban areas. There are no taxis to take people exactly where they want to go in the CBD for example unlike in the past.
The public transport challenge
Another challenge that the authorities face in enforcing this law is the nature of the public transport system in the country. Zimbabwe’s public transport system is largely informal, with most operators running unregistered and unlicensed vehicles a practice known as mushikashika. The majority of the vehicles that ferry passengers in the country are Honda Fits, Wishes and kombis, which are owned and operated by individuals who are not regulated by any authority. The informal nature of the public transport system in the country makes it difficult for the authorities to enforce any law aimed at regulating the sector. I mean these people are already breaking some laws, this will just be another law.
Turning everyone into a criminal
As already said this law is not new, the reason why it has not been enforced in the past is that it is constitutionally unsound. The authorities almost certainly know this but have a habit of trying to exploit the fact that there is a gap between when an outrageous law is introduced and when it’s inevitably struck down. That is a devious practice that has become more of the norm in recent days. It’s not wise though to try to criminalise something that a lot of people do in an election year.
While the law prohibiting the picking up and dropping off of passengers at undesignated points in and around central business districts of towns and cities is well-intentioned, its enforceability is likely to be a challenge. The absence of adequate signage, past experiences of failed attempts to enforce similar laws, and the informal nature of the public transport system are some of the factors that make it difficult for the authorities to enforce this law. It is, therefore, important for the authorities to address these challenges before enforcing the law, to avoid creating chaos and confusion in the transport sector.
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