A call to boycott LUQRAY Coaches

My ordeal with LUQRAY Coaches:

There are coaches travelling from South Africa to Malawi by the name of LUQRAY Coaches (never mind the pronunciation) that leave a lot to be desired. Below is a detailed account of how I came to terms with their horrendous service.

On Thursday, 22nd December, 2011, I set off from my Johannesburg base to visit my relatives in Zomba, given the 3 weeks break that I was afforded by my employees. A week earlier, I went to Park Station (LUQRAY Coaches operate from the offices which belonged to City to City) and booked myself a seat on this bus after realizing that the most trusted INTERCAPE and LINKING AFRICA were fully booked.

My only solution was to travel by bus having eliminated two other options of either driving due to fuel shortages back home or flying due to prohibitive cost of air tickets on sparse flights after the grounding of our national carrier, Air Malawi.

My first set back was the cost. While the more luxurious and aforesaid trusted coaches cost an average of R950 per head, I had to pay R1 100. Besides the cost, I had to bring my own “take away” that is afforded on the other buses. Those who booked the bus a day prior to the departure had to folk out a good R1 300 emulating KULULA Airline booking style.

Come Thursday, 22nd December, I was at their office doorstep at exactly 6:30 hours fully aware that the bus departs at 8:30 hours. By the time of departure, not only was the bus nowhere to be seen but the luggage was also untouched. “We were in for a long wait” as one lady next to me warned.

Then another reality set in – there was one bus going to Malawi. Whether you were going to Lilongwe or Blantyre, we all had to pass through Mwanza Border post. By the time the luggage weigh-in was completed (11:45 hours to be exact), 70 passengers had been confirmed to be on the bus to Malawi. We looked at each other in perplexity – how many coaches can carry 70 passengers?

By the way, there was no scale to weigh-in the luggage. The two impolite bus attendants (who we believe are from Zimbabwe due to their fluency in Shona) simply tapped on top of your bag, looked you in the eye and pronounced the cost. I paid R500 for a 20 kg suitcase (R25 per kilogram) – a price which could beat South African Airways total luggage cost since you have a certain free carry of load.

The bus to Bulawayo was scheduled to leave at 13:00 hours. True to their word, the bus was ready and left just 25 minutes after the scheduled time. Those in the know tipped us that their buses heading to Malawi were unroadworthy hence they preferred travelling at night in South African roads and bribe all their way through Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.

Word had it that those who left the previous Saturday with their bus departed Johannesburg at 20:00 hours and only saw the light of Dedza Border post, 46 hours later. We hoped and prayed that our journey would be better. So it came as no surprise when we were told that “our bus” was undergoing service at an unknown garage and we would leave at 14:00 hours. We waited with baited breaths in the scorching sun.

Just after 17:00 hours, a bus taking us home arrived – the travel by night theory was proved. It was a 40 seater mini-bus – I was gutted. What would be the strategy for choosing the best 40 passengers: destination or date of booking or even gender? A door was opened and people jostled in for seats. I stood back and refused to be insulted.

At last, 40 people had claimed seats and 30 of us were expected to stand in the passage between the seat rows from Johannesburg to Blantyre. 12 people were in such a hurry that they refused to stay behind and gladly took the honour of standing in the passage. Half of the luggage was left behind with yet another promise of being ferried on the next (Saturday’s) bus.

I and one other guy resident in Cape Town went to their office and demanded an immediate refund which took a leg and an arm to pull through. Other passengers who refused to stand all the way, accepted the first right of a seat (though with no guarantees) on next bus. By then it was exactly 18:30 hours and I comprehended that I had wasted 12 hours of my time for a journey that never took a first step.

Food for thoughts:

  1. Why are Malawians always last? A year ago, at the same Park Station, Zambians refused to board a bus that was allotted to them because it was too old for use. They were given a better one and the “rejected bus” came a few hours later and took Malawians home with not an eye brow raised.
  2. Are we Malawians aware of our Consumer Rights? The mere fact that we booked ourselves onto LUQRAY Coaches, we were protected by the following fundamental consumer rights: Right to disclosure and information; Right to fair and honest dealing; Right to fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions; Right to fair value, good quality and safety; Supplier’s accountability to consumers; and Consumer’s right to be heard and obtain redress.
  3. In South Africa, there is an online forum called “Call Peter” where consumers can raise their concerns about services and products that need to be improved. While the concept of “Call Peter” may sound politically predisposed, why can’t we concoct a forum called “Warning Malawians” where we express such concerns as boycotting LUQRAY Coaches and similar sub-standard services? In these days of modern technology, social media like Face book and Twitter can accelerate driving such messages home.
  4. The only power that people with no means of power have is the power to organize. Lucius Banda once said in his song that “Bread akakwela mtengo, m’malo mogwilizana kukana. Ndi pamene ena amatana amagula ma loaf asanu”. Is it language barrier that makes us so slow to stand up against irritations or it is our constitutional make-up to suffer apart in silence?
  5. We always sit back and wait for an accident to happen then we realize that things were bad. Mlaka Maliro also noted that “Tisamadikile kaye kuti pafe m’mwenye, ndiye tidziti chitetezo chayamba kusowa”. The barometer is probably to tell, when is enough, enough?


Warning Malawians:

Let us boycott LUQRAY Coaches from Johannesburg to Malawi because they are “moving coffins” (as we call SA Road Link buses in South Africa). Their pricing is a complete day-time robbery to Malawians. Their services are way below those of other international Coaches.

Further research on the modus operandi of LUQRAY Coaches indicates that what I encountered was not an isolated instance. Let us make our beautiful Malawi a better place and not a dumping site for out-of-date products or old-fashioned services.

*The opinions expressed are those of the author  and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of Nyasa Times

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