Governments across the world have abandoned the optimistic approach of waiting for a COVID 19 cure to be found.
Some restrictions on different sectors of the economy are sparingly being eased to allow for movement of goods, people and transactions to take place.
In Botswana, Government has experienced a challenge with the local public transport sector as to how to ensure the sector remains self-sustainable while complying with COVID 19 protocols and safety measures.
The public transport sector since the introduction and easing of the State of Public Emergency has seen commuters having to wait for a limited number of vehicles to use, transport operators showing less interest in operating due to restricted movement and unreliable permit systems.
Some transport operators have also experienced costs associated with limited number of commuters to carry, purchasing hand sanitizers and printing customer data collection forms.
However, within the sector short distance transport operators were more fortunate than their long-distance counterparts, as they were allowed to operate first. While eventually both long and short distance transport operators were allowed to resume business operations and at full capacity.
The dilemma remains to be what long-distance transport operators can do to adjust to COVID 19 protocols while continuing operations and easing customer fears of contracting the virus.
Long distance transport operators have to travel between districts and contend with customers who are now hyperconscious to physical contact either from sitting next to someone or exchanging bus fare with conductors.
Pre-ticketing in Botswana involves reserving customer seats in a bus after they pay the travel fare in advance before boarding. The system allows for operators to collect customer information such as their full names, phone numbers, destination as well as a seat number and day of departure.
The system allows for bus operators to have a more formalised establishment with an office and customers on transit do not exchange bus fare with conductors. Commuters who purchase pre-tickets are on the hour of departure expected to show their tickets before being allowed to enter the bus.
It remains to be seen if government would consider making it mandatory for all long-distance operators to use a pre-ticketing service as measure of monitoring movement between and reducing the exchange of bus fare between commuters and operators while on transit.
Sunday Standard spoke to Department of Road Transport and Safety acting deputy director Godwin Tlhogo, who said: “The current law does not make provision for mandatory pre-ticketing for long distance transport operations. However there are some public transport operators who have introduced the pre-ticketing service to best serve their customers. Our mandate is to licence them and enforce compliance to regulations that govern their operations.”
“The government has left the pre-ticketing logistics to public transport operators as Government has no offices to offer them at the central place being, the bus rank. The idea will be considered in the near future as a way of improving public transport to decongest the bus ranks. The idea of using reservation to help on data for COVID 19 taskforce will obviously require all operators to rent premises to sell tickets and this will obviously come at a cost to operators who are already complaining of the less profit,” Tlhogo continued.
To hear from captains of the industry, Sunday Standard asked Gemsbok travel tours and hire owner Tshiamo Letshwiti, who has been operating since 2012, on the use of pre-tickets.
“It can be a good idea for all long-distance transport operators to consider it.Most times there are reported cases of operators clashing over departure times, clashing over customers at the bus rank. While customers have complained about lack of coordination between luggage handlers as they misplace luggage. Now when operators have an office establishment, customers can just head to the office and make their travel arrangements,” Letshwiti said.
“The reason why we moved from operating at the bus rank to an office, is that when we pre-sale our tickets we are certain on the number of people travelling on the day. It is not similar to the bus rank whereby a can leave the rank not fully loaded, with the hope that it will pick up passengers on the way and all that because its hour of departure has begun,” said Letshwiti.
Letshwiti further shared the advantages of pre-sale of tickets, such as customers can book their seats and await the departure in the company`s waiting room, operators are certain their buses will always leave fully loaded and there is no theft or misplacement of luggage. However, the disadvantages are that some customers may on the hour departure cancel their trip, customers who travel short distances prefer the service and this has left those going the buses final stop stranded another day.
Letswhiti further shared that observing social distancing in buses is a disappointing disparity because seats in a bus are forty centimetres apart saying the best they can do as operators is to comply with COVID 19 safety measures and protocols. Protocols such a recording customer data, temperature and ensuring vehicles are cleaned after trips.
The sector may be back in operation, Letshwiti believes they still need government to assist them with creating a subsidy.
“Since the 12 June lockdown was lifted we have been unable to depart from Gaborone as only two people booked seats and business has been slow. I foresee a lot of my fellow operators not coming back or returning in the same way as they were before the State of Public Emergency,” Letshwiti said.
The Department of Road Transport and Safety has so far restored most of its services with only a few to be restored once COVID 19 protocols are put in place. Services such as renewal of driver license, Professional Driving Permit (PRDP) are expected to return on the 2nd July while booking for theory would be on 31 August 2020.