Here are a few facts. Roughly 90% of the taxi business consists of these shared minibus taxis; the other 10% are the standard metered taxis. The fare has more or less the same ratio: it will cost you ten times as much in the latter than the former. About two thirds of city commuters use the taxis, with the bus system and the trains splitting the rest. That means that around 10 million workers ride one of these minibuses to or from work each day. The industry is estimated to employ some two hundred thousand people – about 1.3 people for every taxi on the road.
Since the taxis don’t have formal stops (like a bus), if you want to catch one you need to know the correct hand signal to tell the driver where you want to go. If he stops, you have a match. Once you’re on board, you pass the fare forward and change will come back as the passengers do the computation including providing change. Usually the fare depends on the route rather than the distance traveled. There’s no time for negotiation.
|This picture tells you a lot. The driver is friendly and cheerful. His raised finger tells you where he's headed, and the emergency exit is his window! Don't worry that he'll be in your way. He'll be out long before you are!|
As for those road manners, the model is often that the driver is given a taxi and told that the owner wants a certain amount per day in his pocket. How the driver achieves that is up to him. The more he makes, the more he keeps. Is it any wonder that the taxis travel flat out as full as possible (or even as full as impossible!) and stop wherever, whenever? Here time really is money, and drivers might carry on long after dangerous exhaustion sets in. Also routes most popular with commuters are the most lucrative. Hence the turf wars. Throw in some mafia-type actions and some tribal rivalry, and you have the makings of pretty violent confrontations, including taxis being raked with machine gun fire and set alight. The lack of regulation of the vehicles, speeding, and overcrowding also led to some horrendous accidents. Even today minibus taxis account for 10% of road deaths.
The new government felt that it had to face the industry head on. Drivers needed to be guaranteed the minimum wage for their work, commuters needed to be guaranteed safe (or at least not actively dangerous) vehicles, and the rule of law should once more apply on the roads. The immediate reaction of the industry was opposition and intensified hostilities. But time and effort and quite a lot of good will all round has led to a significant improvement. Nowadays, the industry is safer and the turf wars are pretty well a thing of the past. The drivers still go flat out, still stop anywhere, and still break lots of rules. The new bus system being introduced in Johannesburg (heatedly opposed by the taxi associations, of course) has its own separate bus lanes on the roads. These have been co-opted by the taxis too. The new toll highways around the city had to make an exception or face taxi blockades. So taxis go free.
|South African cartoonist Zapiro's comment on the positive reaction of taxi owners to the new 18 passenger or 35 passenger vehicle capacity rules!|
|Susan Woolf's wonderful representations of the taxi hand signs|
Michael - Thursday