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Zimbabwe Commuters Struggle to Afford Public Transport

In Zimbabwe's city, Mutare, residents are shunning regular commuter operators and using other forms of transport – like open lorries – saying buses are simply too expensive. Trucks usually travel to the city center daily to hire laborers. Now, however, drivers say their business has picked up dramatically since they began ferrying residents to and from work. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Loirdham Moyo says commuter operators charge anything from $ 500,000 Zimbabwe dollars (about $12.00 US) for a one-way trip. That's the maximum amount individuals are allowed to withdraw from banks daily. Consumers say if they pay that much for transport, they've nothing left to feed their families.

But a few innovative locals have found a way around the transport nightmare; they're hitching rides with lorry- and truck drivers who charge half of what operators want.

Brighton Chichakara says he's more than comfortable using other forms of transport. However he says when it rains he won't be able to jump onto the back of an open lorry; then he'll have to hitch a ride in a combi:

"The trucks are a dependable and cheap way of going and back from town. At the banks we get $500, 000 and operators charge that same amount meaning that one will have no other means of getting back to work if they rely on withdrawals from the bank. It is only sad now that the rains are imminent that we are forced to go for them."

Another commuter Silvia Sithole says the trucks give consumers much-needed relief. She explains when one makes a trip to the city, returning is a problem because it costs too much.

"We are finding it hard to travel daily into town and back on the $500,000 we withdraw which ends up paying for one trip. Life is now hard and the trucks are a welcome development to most of us."

Chikanga resident Farai Mudzinge says truckers' presence has eased many commuters' financial burdens.

"Many of us are using trucks to get to work and back. We pray they continue serving us as commuter operators are now bent on hiking fares as they please forgetting we only get money enough to cater for one way trip by their current charges."

A truck driver, who identified himself only as Peter, explains he waits in the hope of being hired for a quick day job. But on his way to the city center he's begun transporting commuters… and doing a roaring trade. He says it's extra cash for him as he has to travel to town regardless of whether he's transporting people or not. Peter explains his truck is usually hired to ferry cement, poles and other building materials.

But commuter omnibus operator Edward Pasipamire, of Dangamvura, complains of losing business to truckers. He says he currently earns fewer trips than previously. Edward says he makes as little as 10-million daily, which is less than half of what he usually nets.

Commuter fares have been going up twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays.