COMMUTERS in Bulawayo have hailed the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) for re-introducing a passenger train service in the city as an alternative to the costly commuter omnibuses.
The State rail company introduced a train on the City-Cowdray Park route on Monday last week and the response from commuters has been overwhelming.
The Chronicle caught up with commuters on the evening trip to Cowdray Park on Wednesday and observed that more people were opting for the passenger train for different reasons including its comfort and low cost.
In an interview onboard, passengers expressed their appreciation saying the NRZ has cushioned members of the public from high transport costs and the service must be maintained.
Commuters pay 50 cents per trip compared to kombis that charge between 75 cents and $2 depending on demand and time of the day.
Kombi crews sometimes demand up to $2 at night and when it is raining.
“It’s timing was perfect. We were being robbed by these commuter omnibus operators as they took advantage of us knowing fully well that we didn’t have any alternative means of transport. Now we have a choice, all thanks to NRZ,” said a commuter from Luveve suburb, Mr Douglas Phiri.
“We grew up knowing that the train was the best mode of transport and we were somehow let down due to the economic challenges. We appreciate this effort to service the City-Cowdray Park route and as you can see, the train is full to capacity.”
Athough the coaches were now old, they were in good condition and comfortable.
The seats were not torn and all windows were functional. NRZ officials were friendly and helped commuters at drop-off points.
Passengers also commended the tight security at the station and on board saying they feel safe.
“This level of hospitality is greatly appreciated. You can’t get this from the kombi conductors. Here you feel at home on your way home and I hope the kombi conductors will learn a thing or two from this,” said Ms Mafu Ndiweni from Entumbane suburb.
Commuters, however, appealed to the NRZ to consider reducing the fare to 30cents citing prevailing economic challenges.
“We hope they will reduce the fare to at least 30 cents. We also suggest that they come up with promotions to lure more people. Having schoolchildren paying half price is also recommended,” said one woman only identified as MaDawu.
The morning commuter train departs Bulawayo Station at 4:05AM and arrives at Esigodweni in Cowdray Park at 5:30AM. It then departs for the return journey at 5:35AM and arrives at Bulawayo Station at 7AM.
The evening service leaves Bulawayo Station at 5.30PM and arrives at Esigodweni at 6:50PM. It departs for the return trip at 6:55PM and arrives in town at 8:15PM.
Only cash payments are accepted for single ride tickets and purchases can be made either before boarding or while on board the train.
Commuters can also buy 10 multi-ride tickets for $4,50. Multi-ride tickets can be bought using swipe or EcoCash at the Bulawayo Station.
Although the state of the coaches is nothing compared to that of other developed countries, the NRZ is trying to offer a service at a low cost.
Kombi operators are now feeling the pinch due to the competition posed by the NRZ.
Hordes of people are now abandoning commuter omnibus operators who were servicing the routes now covered by the train as people are abandoning the kombis for the train.
Some of kombis are returning to town empty.
Kombi operators said they will remain in business despite a sharp decrease in the number of people accessing their services.
“In every business, there is competition and for us to stay afloat, we will need to provide quality services so that commuters will make their own choices. As service providers, we will strive to maintain a good relationship with our customers,” said Tshova Mubaiwa marketing and managing director, Mr Ndaba Mabunda.
Mr Mabunda said they will not bow to pressure by reducing fares.
Commuters said the train has helped them to save a little while the NRZ promised to introduce train services on other routes soon.
Source : The Chronicle