Taxi driver behaviour

2008-03-26 00:00

The lead story on yesterday’s front page told of the appalling behaviour of taxi drivers, especially in northern areas of the city, who routinely run cars off the road in heavily congested streets. One alarming technique is for convoys of five or six taxis to overtake the queue of traffic by driving in the oncoming lane. Unfortunately, this is but one extreme form of a kind of taxi chauvinism experienced throughout the city, and, according to Msunduzi traffic and security division spokesman Lalloo Parbhoo, resources are limited and taxi drivers cannot be specifically policed.

It must be acknowledged that the taxi industry has become a vital part of the South African economy in recent years. The pity is that it does not see itself as a service industry. Instead, taxis countrywide are driven as if they have priority over all other vehicles — and this despite the fact that some of them are death traps, poorly maintained rustbuckets that should be denied roadworthy certificates. Credit where it’s due, however: the government has attempted to bring taxi ownership into line with its recapitalisation programme, and the new, larger, bus-like taxis have built-in safety features promoting new and better attitudes among drivers and passengers alike. Also, with time — and given the monstrous numbers of lethal accidents involving taxis — passengers are becoming more discriminating and less passive, more insistent that vehicles should be safe and that drivers should be competent.

These things are good, but it’s obvious that what’s really needed is a strong, assertive and ubiquitous police presence with the will to catch offenders, charge them and follow each case through as far as possible. Surely, in view of the dangers posed by taxis, it’s not good enough to say that resources don’t run to this? Surely it’s possible to divert resources from some other aspect of traffic policing, so that taxi drivers everywhere in the city may know that they’re always under official observation and likely to be stiffly penalised for infringements? Surely, now, traffic officers on duty should abandon their almost punitive approach to ordinary and reasonably law-abiding motorists, and surely the emphasis of their work should switch from revenue-generation (speed-trapping is particularly lucrative) to traffic calming and the promotion of road safety? It’s time to grasp the taxi nettle, uncomfortable as that may be, and to work vigorously to tame what sometimes seems like a ravening beast of the road.

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