HUNDREDS of taxi operators in Victoria Falls have been thrown out of business, hoping for a return only when the tourism industry regains its feet.
The tourism industry ground to a halt because of Covid-19 which caused massive cancellation of trips and suspension of airlines leaving Victoria Falls with no source of revenue as the town wholly depends on the tourism value chain.
Hotels and tour operators closed, some indefinitely because of lack of business, leaving thousands with no jobs.
The transport sector is one of the worst affected as operators depend largely on tourists for day to day business.
There are no kombis in Victoria Falls and six-seater Toyota Gaia and Wish vehicles are used for public transport while Toyota Noahs operate on the highway to Hwange and rural areas.
Taxi operators are appealing for a Government waiver on vehicle licences as they anticipate to be out of business for an indefinite period.
Victoria Falls Combined Taxis Association chairman Mr Oliver Mwembe said the situation is dire for hundreds of taxis drivers and operators.
“We have been talking to members who are still puzzled by this situation. Even if the lockdown is lifted, there is nothing left for Victoria Falls for now because the tourism industry is down. Many taxi operators and drivers will go back to the rural areas because they won’t be able to survive this onslaught,” said Mr Mwembe.
He said the taxi business was a hand-to-mouth operation.
“There are generally more taxis in Victoria Falls than in Bulawayo hence it’s difficult to really make money because of the smaller population. So, we can’t say people have been making money. Many were already living from hand to mouth,” he said.
“There will be a big problem after the lockdown because Victoria Falls is deeply dependant on tourist arrivals yet there are no airlines and visitors coming. As tax paying citizens through our registered cars, we want to appeal to Government to consider a waiver on some of vehicle licence fees for the period of the lockdown and treat us as vulnerable small-scale businesses eligible for social grants given to informal traders.”
There are numerous taxi associations in Victoria Falls owing to the high number of taxis.
These include Airport Taxis, TM Pick ‘n’ Pay, OK, Parkway, Hotels, Post Office, Rainforest, Border, Emaplankeni, Chisuma, Jambezi, Highway and Victoria Falls-Hwange among others who all feed into the Victoria Falls Combined Taxis Association.
Ms Thandiwe Mafa Moyo, proprietor of Minanda Tours and Travel which offers transfers to tourists and residents, said it will take time for the transport business to find its feet again.
“We have been hard hit as a new player and as long as borders remain closed, there won’t be income for us in the transport sector because our clients are tourists. Even if the lockdown ends, it will take time for tourists to regain confidence in international travel hence we will remain out of business,” she said.
Taxi operators are complaining of looming hunger as their income has dried up.
A majority of drivers were earning commissions with a few using their own vehicles.
On a good day, a taxi plying the city centre and high-density suburbs routes would make between US$15 and US$20 daily while those plying town to rural areas along the Hwange Highway would make US$30 per day on average after subtracting fuel costs. It costs US$1 or RTGS$15 between the city centre and high-density suburbs which is only 3km to the furthest destination.
Hwange and Victoria Falls route operators who charge US$5 per person for the 100km trip would make about US$50 per day.
The operators and drivers said they can no longhondaer afford to pay rent and rates or buy food for their families.