If you live in Johannesburg, taxis ARE the most consistent bane of your life. Seriously thinking about it, I cannot list any other life-threatening problem – and I’m spoilt for choice – which makes a significant portion of all motorists’ lives a misery several times a day.
Potholes? They’re bad, but you end up knowing where the stubborn ones are and safely steer around them. Rising fuel prices? Yes, but unless you’re a salesperson on the road all day chances are you aren’t filling up every day. Crime? Yes, this is always a serious concern, but you end up falling into a magic routine that keeps you protected ... right up until it doesn’t, of course.
Taxis, however, are a different story. The best anecdote I can share relates to a security guard who I happen to be teaching how to drive over weekends. He’s a bright guy in his 30s, and like most other South Africans his only mobility options are taxis. It’s not great, because he’s previously been in taxis on several occasions that have been involved in accidents, but he’s got no other choice.
While we were one day talking about how it is crucial that he drives with care, not like those taxis, he left me momentarily stunned when he said in all seriousness: ‘But these traffic laws don’t apply to taxis, do they?’ As we spoke about it, it came to light that he believed that taxis were legally entitled to drive like they do ... something he was pretty surprised to hear actually wasn’t so.
He sees a different side to taxis than I do, of course. He told me that when he’d asked taxi drivers why they drive like they do, they’d explained that if they didn’t drive fast and meet their targets for passengers, they would lose their jobs or get whipped (literally) by taxi bosses.
With that in mind I tried viewing all taxi drivers with a measure of empathy, but that all evaporated the very next time a taxi driver stopped his taxi in the middle of a lane without so much as a passenger getting on or off, and stayed there while I calmly sat behind him with my hand on the hooter for about thirty seconds (I couldn’t change lanes due to active traffic so decided to use my time to at least some effect).
Of course when I pulled alongside him and reasoned with him through the polite hand gestures and engaging discussion that one can squeeze into three seconds – lest I become an obstacle as well – he just laughed at me and couldn’t have appeared less worried if he’d been lounging pool-side.
I hold the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) and South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) collectively responsible – who else? – more than the ignorant or whipped taxi drivers or their respective taxi owners. Business owners will profit however they can, and people will take whatever job they can: especially so if they feel that the road rules don’t apply to taxis.
To be fair, one of my happiest memories in Johannesburg was approaching a red traffic light one random night, and the taxi in front of me calmly drove on through it. To my delight, an unassuming unmarked bakkie next to me suddenly started a siren and flashing lights and pulled the taxi over. It might well be that that the taxi was pulled over because police were hunting for a criminal, but to me it was finally some small payback for every injustice committed by taxi drivers.
I think that as South Africans generally and Johannesburgers specifically, we need to move beyond stewing in our own juices and pointless finger-pointing, to focus on issues that clearly CAN be solved. I’m under no pretences that South Africa’s racial tension, political indecision or economic vulnerability have short-term solutions, but taxis are some of the lowest-hanging fruit.
Nobody is saying that taxis shouldn’t be on the roads. They play a critical role, and I’m willing to forgive them many things ... we’re all just trying to get by, after all.
There are, however, some very simple things to enforce (with handy locations for the JMPD – as if they didn’t know):
- * Stop taxis treating the yellow lane at traffic lights as legal lanes to queue up in. William Nicol, ever single morning.
- * Stop taxis climbing curbs and driving along the pavement to cut off some traffic. Douglas Drive, between Leslie Avenue and the highway.
- * Stop taxis driving into oncoming traffic to pass a bit of traffic congestion on the left. Eaton Avenue in Bryanston, every single afternoon.
- * Stop taxis stopping in an active lane of traffic to pick up or drop off passengers, or to happily just park for a while. Fourways Boulevard, Rivonia Road and William Nicol.
If the net impact of all the above means that taxis move slower through the traffic and can complete fewer trips per day, so be it! You’re opening up space for new taxi entrants to take up the slack, and the others need to adjust their business models and routes to adapt. A basic tenet of civilized society: you can’t condone illegal activity just to boost some business’ profitability.
I’ve said before that an important stakeholder in this whole process is the taxi passenger, calmly standing on the road with no place for a taxi to pull over BUT to block traffic, indicating with a finger for one to stop. If you use taxis, for goodness’ sake just walk to a taxi rank nearby or at the very least to one of those little stops where a taxi can safely pull off the road.
You could try e-mailing SANTACO to complain directly, but you might not get a response – I’ve been waiting two years for a response to an e-mail I sent to email@example.com. It’s not surprising given all of the above: SANTACO knows full well about it (it’s not like I’m talking about anything even vaguely rare), but they just don’t appear to be doing anything too effective about it. I’m sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s based on my first-hand experience every single day.
For how much longer are South Africans going to be held ransom by taxis’ particular brand of gross negligence, arrogance and life-threatening actions? For how much longer is the JMPD going to keep turning a blind eye, or SANTACO as the responsible council?
A recent press release on SANTACO’s website (www.santaco.co.za/425/) attributes the following sentiment to SANTACO’s CEO, Nkululeko Buthelezi: “South Africa’s taxi industry is suffering from neglect and the government is not doing enough to help it flourish and provide a quality service to its customers.”
How can an industry which flaunts traffic rules with such disdain demand even more from the Government and – by extension – you and me as tax payers?
Simple: everybody blames Government, and everybody wants the Government to solve all their problems. It’s a South African tragedy, irrespective of race or background. In this case, however, the transgressors are well-known and the remedial action is obvious.
Just close your eyes and imagine driving on Johannesburg roads when the taxi in the lane to the right of you indicates its intention to move to the left, waits for you to pass safely, merges into the lane with enough following distance behind you, and then pulls off the road with a slow and controlled braking manoeuvre into a designated stopping area.
*Bliss* It’s almost enough to help you overlook nearly being run over by that SUV driven by the yummy mummy on her phone, as you dart around the crippled beggar, the lady brandishing the homeless newspaper, the kid in the hot-hatch who must be on his way to an important meeting and that guy with the pamphlet to the retirement home you’ve already picked up three times before.
Gotta love Johannesburg.
PS: If the JMPD or a representative from SANTACO has something to say about this, feel free to comment below. I’m honestly interested to hear whether either of these bodies believe that they’re doing enough to curb the problem, because I’m just not seeing a trace of it. Why not?
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