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They’re everywhere; but how does our most popular form of public transport work?
What's the deal with... Minibus Taxis?
Ever decide that you should hold your hooter in for no apparent reason so as to produce a loud, constant whine?
Ever swerve over into the next lane without signalling?
Maybe you like parking in the middle of the street, directly in front of other drivers, without indicating, at the height of rush hour traffic?
Is your minibus Kombi barely roadworthy - the arbitrary nonsensical graffiti on it all that seems to be holding it together? Are you in the habit of squeezing about 20 people into it like sardines in an attempt to emulate clowns escaping Volksies?
Then you have what it takes to be a South African Minibus Taxi Driver!
As a minibus taxi driver/maniac you’ll be afforded the opportunity to transport persons from the side of any road at any time breaking any law to any destination YOU feel like! At whatever price YOU feel like!
Alright, so I’m generalising quite hectically. For a large portion of South Africans- those who can’t afford to buy their own cars, perhaps have too erratic a work schedule to be able to follow the standard bus schedules - For these individuals, Minibus Taxi’s are a lifesaver. They offer a quick fix, and the ferryman is rather easily placated.
Before 1987 the taxi industry was strictly regulated, with all minibus taxi operations strictly illegal. From that date onwards the industry started to become more and more de-regulated, drivers utilizing any means (often illegal) at their disposal to take advantage of the high demand for cheap transport and better their competition. This led to numerous ‘’Taxi-Wars’’, violent clashes over territory, which still occur today.
Ownership and management of the vehicles varies – sometimes operated by a company, or subcontracted by a public transit authority. Alternatively, the cars are owned by a single company that pays the drivers - often individual vehicles are owned by individual drivers but operate under the same company name.
Their speed is (while daunting and dangerous to other drivers on the road) exactly what their passengers are looking for, and appreciate. They are ‘’practiced’’ and ‘’skilled’’ at finding the quickest route from A to B, even if this entails some off- road driving skill.
Despite my poking fun at the non-standardisation of prices, the fare is normally relatively very inexpensive. I’ve paid R7 to travel over 10 kilometres before. The interesting thing is that payment works along pretty set routes – so despite being picked up at a later part of the route you’ll still pay the same price as if you’d been in the taxi from the start of the route (for example, a trip from Long Street to Seapoint is R7, but if you get picked up along that route, you still pay the full R7, despite the distance being lessened).
You can find a Minibus Taxi on any corner of Cape Town, in any suburb really, but if you prefer more predictability to your life, there are taxi ‘’ranks’’ (where the taxi’s stay until their next run) where you can go to ensure your seat and route. These are also positioned most everywhere in Cape Town, with at least one in every major suburb.
A (For Now) Dangerous Necessity
As I have already said – these Taxis are a bit of a necessity, considering the... state of our public transport otherwise. No matter how one feels, it must be remembered that over 60 % of South African’s rely on these tin can commuter carriers. Each day an average of 14 million people take a taxi.
With the government currently in negotiations in an effort to re-regulate and formulize the minibus taxi industry, (including replacing the old, barely working taxis with new models) the day may come soon when necessity suddenly becomes choice.
But until then– many view Taxi’s with a rather more...wary outlook. These are not the charming taxi cabs depicted in American Television shows and movies - our Minibus (this moniker is a literal description )Taxi’s sometimes blatant disregard for traffic laws means they potentially ( and have on many an occasion) endanger pedestrians, other motor vehicle drivers, and their own passengers.
In the meantime, they really are rather fun to ride in – if adrenaline rushing is your thing.
By John Scharges
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