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The realities of everyday taxi life


We receive numerous complaints about taxis on a weekly basis. In fact, this issue features so strongly that in a recent poll on our website, 90% of voters said that the government must spend most of the traffic department’s resources on taxi offences.

This is magnified by the fact that the e-toll violations processing centre, blue light brigade and drinking and driving combined for the other 10%.We decided this week, however, to look at the other side of the coin: what taxi life is like, for better or worse.

Every morning, I - like 15 million others - catch a taxi to work and I must admit that it’s exciting, but also frightening at times. Unlike buses, the smaller carriage load enables taxis to go back and forth and in most cases that’s where the problem starts, as they rush to be first ones to board passengers and in the process offend other road users. However, the reason they rush is because most of these taxi drivers’ employers give them specific targets they must reach each day. So the question to motorists is: if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you do the same?

In a taxi, some passengers greet and chat away, thus bringing about a spirit of community, something you don’t experience when driving alone in a car. The exciting thing is that friendships that are created among passengers can last outside the taxi for years.

What I like about taxis is the time I can use to do something else. So instead of having a driver’s stress and spending time behind the wheel that they’ll never get back, as a passenger I use this time to read a newspaper to stay abreast with all that’s happening around the world.

However, a journey by taxi isn’t always as pleasant as it may sound. Some taxis are open graves, with broken windows, worn seats, cracked windscreens and doors that require specialised jigs to open and close.

It is a fact that some taxis are overloaded and needless to say, it is the drivers’ fault. Some late passengers insist on being squeezed into a full taxi and although some drivers are very strict, others will allow this in order to reach their daily targets. These situations can also be merciless, because if you are already on board and have a problem with this, it is expected of you to simply get out.

The other negative and most complained about by motorists is driver negligence, like stopping in the middle of a lane, cutting in front of other drivers and driving in the yellow lane or passing a red robot. Passengers are sometimes unreasonable in instructing the driver to stop in places where it’s not appropriate for them to do so. It’s also a very common and easy excuse for taxi drivers to drive the way they do, but in actual fact, they drive like this anyway, full taxi or not.

All of these issues also bring about a frightening reality for some of these drivers: dodging the metro police. They do this on daily basis, but if they are caught and are lucky, a bribe or a Coke will get them out of trouble.

The darkest aspect of taxi life is also one that most motorists don’t have to deal with and thus not really think about: the taxi wars. It is widely believed that these disputes only affect those involved, but in fact they do impact and disrupt the whole community. Many civilian lives have been lost due to these wars. The aftermath also don’t just affect association members. Many commuters are left stranded and for many, this usually means ‘no work no pay.’

Probably the biggest misconception around taxi life is that it’s responsible for the most road deaths. However, according to the 2010/2011 annual traffic report, 405 people died in crashes involving minibus taxis while a massive 6 649 were killed in car accidents. This means that for each road death in a minibus taxi, 16 people were killed in accidents involving cars.

What is exciting, though, is that transformation is taking place, however slow it might be. The industry is becoming regulated - members of the Ivory Park Taxi Association are now expected to wear ties on Mondays and Fridays. The aim is to promote professionalism and neatness among the drivers. When asked about the significance of wearing a tie, Xolani Zulu, who’s route goes from Ivory Park to Kempton Park, said, “This enables other taxi drivers to bath and be neat.” This may seem trivial to the average motorist, but in the taxi community, it’s a big step in the right direction. And in my view, the change in dress code will completely work if it can be applied five days a week.

In essence, every taxi is a death trap, but so is every other vehicle on the road. Many complaints about taxis are founded and completely valid, but for most of us, it is part of our daily lives. We cannot survive without them and this is also true for taxi drivers, whose bread and butter is to ferry people around.

Remember, for every taxi driver that makes your blood boil, there are 15 other people whose livelihood depend on them. And in the end I can’t make excuses, I can just tell my story.

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