Casper Jaricha (27) made a dash for the taxi business in the run-up to the World Cup tournament held in South Africa early this year, hoping to cash in on the avalanche of tourists that were expected to stay in the country during the soccer fiesta.
The anticipated brisk business, however failed to materialise, forcing Jaricha to re-do his calculations and, like many others in the same line of business, consider other ways of making money.
“We were disappointed that our anticipations did not materialise,” he said, “but then if you still have the car, it’s a resource from which you can make money through other means.”
Customers travelling out of Harare are found far and in-between, paying an average of $3 a trip within the CBD, Jaricha said, but there were hardly people travelling to far-off places such as Chitungwiza, where he stays.
A single trip to suburbs such as Greencroft and Queensdale can earn between $5 and $7.
Normally, a trip to Chitungwiza would give him between $10 and $15.
But Jaricha says one hardly found people ready to part with so much, and this has often seen him ferrying people to Chitungwiza for as little as $3 or $5.
Jaricha has, however, realised that one could still make a lot of money through innovative but unconventional means as the taxi business was no “longer just about taking a person from point A to point B”.
He admitted that prostitutes were now ranked high among their biggest clients, as they preferred using taxis for rendezvous with their clients, and were prepared to part with significant amounts of money for that (out –of –line) service.
“A lot is happening,” he said, “and the money is good so you can easily rent out your car for maybe 30 minutes, or more, and pocket good money.”
He however refused to say how much they charged for providing such a service to sex workers and their clients.
Another taxi driver, identified as Jameson, said he was now operating mainly in the Avenues, which is part of Harare’s red-light district, where he made money “without burning fuel”.
The 32-year-old, whose taxi is usually parked at Five Avenue shops, said a lot of men no longer felt safe helping themselves to sex workers in lodges, and some now preferred taxis for their operations.
They pay according to the time, just like they charge their clients for ‘short time’ or ‘full-length’ sessions, he said.
“So I operate as usual during the day,” he said, “but at night, I get down to serious work because in a few hours at night, I earn more money them I do during the day.”
This innovation, however, has its downside. “You can’t always trust these women when they come to you seeking to use your car,” he said, adding that some of them were accomplices to criminals who ended up robbing them.
Desperate to make ends meet against the backdrop of a narrow client base, some taxi drivers are allegedly teaming up with criminals who use the taxis to transport them and carry their loot to chosen destinations.
According to Louis Mapiye, who is also in the same business, some of their colleagues struck deals with thieves as the pay-offs are often big.
“Yes, some guys are doing that,” he says, adding that it is however a risk he is not prepared to take.
“But they try to play it safe, like dropping off the thieves at the spot where they want to operate.”
He added that the thieves now preferred to use taxis as they do not raise much suspicion at a crime scene.
“It is just a matter of dropping them off and driving away,” he says.
“Then they call you later to pick them up, depending on the arrangement you would have made.”
Other taxi drivers say that the fact that were now so many of them, it was hard to establish a significant client base that is good enough to guarantee one’s survival, so they were now looking at other creative means to make as much money as they can.
Despite the new lease of life that has been injected into the economy following the introduction of the multi-currency system, many ordinary people are still particular about the use of their few precious dollars.
Since disposable income is still significantly limited, most commuters still prefer the conventional mode of transport which costs between 50 cents and $1.
This has necessitated, among the taxi drivers, the need to cast their net wider and ensure that they remain in business regardless of the odds staked against them.