The mere mention of South African minibus taxis is enough to cause the most adventurous driver to quake behind the wheel. In my experience, most local taxi drivers have no regard whatsoever for the rules of the road, or for common courtesy. I am enormously thankful that I don’t have to rely on this mode of transport to get me from A to B. The sad fact is that millions of South Africans have no option but to rely on taxis for their daily transport.
Let me share with you a few facts about this frightening, complex and yet fairly efficient transport system, which I have gleaned from unfortunate souls who rely on this form of transport:
The taxi system is much like a bus system, except that although there are various established routes that taxis follow they do not run on a fixed time schedule as a bus would.
The routes that the taxis follow are not publicised in any way, but can be established only by word of mouth.
If you are beginning your trip from a taxi rank, you will need to stand in the queue for the particular route you wish to embark on. Taxi marshalls are there to ensure that the commuters are in the right queues and that each taxi is filled to capacity before leaving the rank. The taxi marshalls decide where the passengers are going to sit in the taxi and take no nonsense from the passengers.
On any particular route there are hand signals which are used to convey your desired destination – for example, you may stand on the side of the road with your arm extended and one finger pointing down, in my area, this would mean that you want to go to Port Shepstone, in which case a taxi travelling on that route would stop and pick you up (probably at great speed, without indicating his intention to pull over and stop to the vehicle travelling behind him!!)
The unfortunate passenger who lands up sitting in front next to the driver often has the unenviable task of counting up the taxi fares, which are passed to her by other passengers en-route. Taxi drivers are exceedingly good at mental arithmetic and woebetide the passenger who attempts to cheat him!
Taxis hoot, a lot. The hoots can sometimes indicate where they are going to, but can also simply indicate that one taxi driver has acknowledged another.
There are taxi associations. The taxi drivers belonging to one association are not generally fond of the taxi drivers from another association. Should a driver of one association solicit for customers on a route belonging to another association, blood will sometimes be shed.
Taxis are frequently overloaded - the marshalls will try to squeeze as many people into a taxi as possible, to maximise profits. Want to read about how 23 people and one goat fitted into a taxi? Click here