Taxis industry; part of the urban mobility future

When you ask South Africans how they get from point A to B, it is mostly by a taxi complemented by walking. Some statistics has shown that about 60% or above of the public transport market share belongs to the taxis industry. It is mostly that when one arrives in time at work or home, it is by the use of a taxi. The most convenient door to door public transport service in our public transport space is offered by the taxi industry if not walking.

When I first arrived in Gauteng years back from the rural Limpopo, I have known that when you hear a hooter, it is either someone is avoiding an accident by alerting other road users or it’s a sign of greeting; that was my understanding of a hooter prior to learning that the latter is not allowed. That moment I was arriving in Tembisa, from all corners I could hear a hooter: “pe.pe.pe.pe.pe” and I was confused until my uncle who came to collect me at the taxi rank filled me in. To cut the long story short, I then learned that a hooter is instead used to attract customers by the taxi drivers. I got into a local taxi (Toyota Venture), the driver continued with his hooter non-stop and ultimately I adjusted as the sounds were non-stop along the road. This is innovation by the taxi industry, mind less the legality issues. In other parts of the world it will be researched to see if it is socially and economically accepted and documented.

Secondly, on my stay in the area I then noticed that there are different sign for different areas or destination, the popular one is Johannesburg where one needs to point his/ her  finger up (mostly index finger), finger down for local trips (which are operated by different cabs), and many other signs. This makes part of mobility easy for the locals and they understand the entire process. It is innovation and creativity of the industry, homegrown solutions. Who is appreciating this creativity from the system?

All these elements form part of their urban mobility.

On the third point, let us take a look on how the industry behaves on the road. Taxis drive in the yellow lane but who are they hurting in the process? None except taking the emergency lane but of great importance they please the passengers because time and convenience are part of a successful public transport system. For passengers to get bread on the table, it should be that they are on time to their workplaces otherwise they run a risk of abuse by capitalists. The passengers on board mostly are not employers but instead employees, therefore they need to be on time for work otherwise the system of imperialism will deal with them (employees). Why do taxis drive in the yellow lanes other than convenience? These questions need answers. But I repeat; creativity is central to them; they are innovative and proactive. They know customer service and relationship. These aspects are absent from the well subsidized public transport systems: Rea Vaya, Putco, Are Yeng, etc. Every morning you are told you cannot load money because someone did not do his/ her work. With all the resources the subsidized modes are still failing to meet customers’ needs. Shame!!!

Back to my yellow line narration! Yellow line driving is working for passengers. Any taxi driver who does not use a yellow lane in rush hour is running a risk of not getting another load for that route the next morning or afternoon because no one would get into his taxi. Then why does one blame the taxi drives? I say it is ignorance (poverty of a mind) and the solution to that ignorance is education. The context of the argument lies in the way the taxi industry operates in the South Africa.

Transport departments, heads, etc. know of these happenings. Does the MEC or Minister know about this? A big “Yes”, they are looking but the solution they can provide is through fines by traffic officers. They forget the role of the industry and only remember it in conferences. They are afraid to deal with the loopholes in the legislation and policies.

Having said that, it is obvious that public transport modes (in this case, taxis) need dedicated lanes or high occupancy vehicle lanes to meet the customer needs as the 1996 White Paper, NDP and other policies have mentioned about customer mobility needs.

State owned entity SANRAL on their website states that “the success of effective and efficient commuter transport in Gauteng, lies in the provision of different transport options and modes to commuters. These options include the GFIP with high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV), the Gautrain, Metrorail and Bus Rapid Transport Systems (BRT). The GFIP strives to create links with the other transport modes to provide citizens with the choice for either using public transportation or car-pooling that alleviate congestion caused by single-passenger vehicles.”

A question arises from the above statement; where are the High Occupancy Vehicle / Public Transport lanes which were suggested or noted (as stated on the website)? We will need a day to discuss that further.

Let us take a look in streets like Bree and Jeppe in Johannesburg which are dominated by public transport (taxis). We have a city (CoJ) that almost very conference talks about working with the taxi industry to address their challenges but they are not able to provide them with just one incentive: Dedicated streets for taxis in the CBD. I do not see why both streets, Bree and Jeppe must not be dedicated for taxis, buses and NMT only. These streets connect the city from the east to the west. To counter argue this, one will talk about how business will suffer if we remove those parking spaces and private cars. I refer such a person to Kerk/ Church Street parallel to Jeppe and Bree. Church Street is one of the liveable and pedestrian friendly streets of Johannesburg CBD and the businesses around the street still exist.

My argument is that it is about time we allocated dedicated lanes for the public transport (taxi industry) in the CBDs, secondary roads and on freeways. Immediately public transport start to share the road with private vehicles in the inners congested city areas then there is a problem. This is mostly created by the inferior thinking that taxis are not part of the Integrated Public Transport System as we have witnessed in other cities in their development of their Integrated Rapid Public Transport Networks (IRPTN). It is because of the “Copy and Paste” approach in our transport projects. We forget that our landscape is different from others.

Another practicality in this case! Driving (own car) from Tembisa (Phomolong) to Sandton takes 15 to 20 minutes during off-peak. During peak hours depending on the day, weather, etc. it takes about 40 – 60 minutes by private car however it is less with a taxi, 15-20 minutes (yellow line). They created their own dedicated lane and its working. It is less because they are offering a people oriented public transport services. They know passengers need to get to work and home in time. They understand the needs of the customers. However this comes with a pain because traffic officers are always watching them, waiting to pen them down. But is it worth “offering” fines to our hardworking taxi drivers when they move people? I do not think so, and some will hide and say it is illegal to drive in the yellow lane. This is because we are always afraid of change of these “uncertain” policies and regulations which undermines our ability to bring about solutions to our urban mobility systems and spaces.

We need to move people other than vehicles and this is achieved by the taxi industry and other modes of public transport.  However it should be noted that this can be achieved in the absence of cowardice but in the presence of vibrancy, political will, law enforcement and behavioral change

We have a problem of vested interests hence the negligence of the taxi industry but the prioritization of the BRT which runs empty most of the day. I am not saying BRT is not a good system but the approach is. The continuous preaching about a safe, reliable, effective, and efficient and a mass integrated rapid public transport is not being implemented because even today the public transport is still not integrated. It is about time we bring back the public interest in the public transport.

As a country we have potential and solutions to our problems but the way we try to address such problems is problematic.

By Reginald Kgwedi

Twitter: @reginaldkgwedi

Founder: Transport and Logistics Students Association (TaLSA)

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