Make way for taxis

2017-11-28 06:00

WHEN I tell people I haven’t had a run-in with a minibus taxi for years, they look at me in disbelief. I attribute this phenomenon to two things, luck and my unconventional mindset towards taxi drivers.

While many South Africans regard minibus taxis as lawless missiles, I treat them as if they were ambulances privy to right of way in almost every situation. The fact is, minibus taxis are an integral part of our economy and provide a cost-effective and convenient mode of transport for millions of people who don’t own cars. Taxis also carry up to 24 passengers whose collective time should be seen as commanding a higher priority than that of individuals in their private vehicles.

Not only this, by giving way to taxis you’re adding to their passengers’ comfort and efficiency, thus incentivising them to continue using taxis rather than buying or using their own cars (which would only add to the congestion on our roads).

It’s also worth noting that if the government was half-capable, our roads would have designated taxi lanes at peak times. In the absence of this basic service, our minibus taxis are undeservedly relegated to private car status.

And, lastly, taxi drivers are some of South Africa’s hardest-working citizens. Many of us don’t appreciate this, but the average taxi driver works from 5 am to 7 pm, six to seven days a week — more than double any corporate employee’s average working week of 40 hours.

There’s no doubt that numerous taxi drivers are guilty of over-exuberant driving habits.

However, we have to understand that this behaviour is driven partly by their association’s mandate to maximise passenger turnaround and revenue; and mostly out of sheer frustration that neither the roads nor traffic etiquette are helpful to public transport.

Taxi drivers are worryingly undertrained for their profession — a responsibility that should rest with the taxi associations. Surely taxi drivers would benefit significantly from an advanced drivers’ course tailored to suit the needs of the industry?

The defensive driving module alone would almost certainly reduce taxi-related accidents and fatalities.

Over and above this, I’ve witnessed a disturbing upward trend in instances of inconsiderate and aggressive driving shown particularly by bakkie and SUV owners, towards minibus taxis. It’s sad to see such pervasive intolerance of taxis in our society, especially since lunatic taxi drivers represent only a small minority of the industry.

Although some insist that taxis are deserving of this hostile (yet retrogressive) treatment, it will do nothing but further inflame the standoff and cause more accidents.

Of course, taxi drivers who flout the law, endanger their passengers and put other road users at risk, must be caught and fined or arrested. They should then face disciplinary action from their governing association and be forced to attend a refresher drivers’ course before resuming work. This aside though, I’m optimistic that should taxi drivers be broadly accommodated by all other road users, they’ll feel less-inclined to break as many laws as they do. Treating them with respect and showing them courtesy would likely improve road relations and driving behaviour all around.

So, rather than complaining about taxi drivers, why don’t you embrace the road revolution and adopt a mindset to give way to minibus taxis?

You’ll soon discover countless ways to accommodate taxis on our roads. Start small: if you see a taxi attempting to rejoin the flow of traffic ahead of you, let it in; if you see an oncoming taxi waiting to turn across your lane, let it through; and take it from there.

The convenience afforded to minibus taxis and their passengers is huge when compared to your own personal inconvenience, and you might well be surprised how often they return the favour.

• Robert J. Traydon is a BSc graduate of engineering and the author of Wake-up Call: 2035.

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