Taxi operators in the central Malawi district of Mchinji used to make a lot of money in the years gone by to the extent that they could afford to buy cars, houses and plots even after working for just two years.
The operators interviewed at the Boma last Wednesday said they dread the future because the economy is not showing any signs of recovering.
On this particular day, about 15 taxis were parked waiting for passengers going to Mwami border to connect to Zambia. In an interview, the operators said plying the Mchinji—Mwami border route used to be lucrative, but not anymore.
One of the operators, Gerald Msumya, says he started operating his taxi in 1990, but by 1992, he had bought another taxi and employed a driver.
By 1996, Msumya says he had acquired a plot and built a good house and was leading a decent life.
“Life used to be simple and we were making a lot of money, but now there are many taxis and coupled with the fuel increases, then we are working just to bring bread on our tables,” says Msumya.
He says on a good day then, he used to make over K20 000, but now he makes less than half of that.
“We are suffering because of the fuel hikes and the devaluation of the kwacha because many customers always ask for a discount,” says Msumya.
Another operator, William Sakala, says business has gone down mainly because many traders at the boma have got taxis because then it was a lucrative business.
“Mchinji is one of the districts with a lot of taxis and this is why we are not making more money as was the case before,” he says.
“I started this job as a taxi driver in 2006 and within two years, I managed to buy my own car. A year after buying my own car, I bought a plot and I will complete the house this year,” says Sakala.
He, however, says at the turn of the century, many people saw how taxi drivers were getting rich and they bought many taxis at the same time, hence, flooding the market.
Sakala says since then, business has not been as good and, instead of waiting for 10 minutes for a taxi to be filled, they wait for more than an hour on bad days.
“We charge K500 per passenger to the border and the process of waiting for the taxi to be filled takes most of our time. Today, if you make more than K10 000, you are very lucky,” says a worried Sakala.
He also says the decision by government to float the kwacha and the reintroduction of the automatic pricing mechanism of fuel has made most of them look for alternative businesses.
“We are readjusting ourselves because business is no longer the same,” says Sakala.
Another operator, Edward Kamulodere, of Mkanda said he has sold two of his taxis because business is not good these days.
“We are suffering. Our hope is that government is going to work hard to make the kwacha strong again,” says Kamulodere.