Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Taxi Experience

I have now been in Jo-burg for about 2 weeks, and by no means I am expert on the city, but I do feel pretty accomplished by the fact that I can get myself to and from my office everyday. Yes, it may seem like a small victory but maybe once you read this article from the Guardian in 2010, you too will put your hands together in applause for me!
Carless in Johannesburg. It could be the title of a low-budget horror movie. A huge, sprawling greater metropolitan area of about 10 million people covering more than 600 square miles, the city is built for the car. If you're not in one, good luck – even though most drivers will be stuck in gridlock. I've been here for a few weeks and my main exposure to the city has been on foot. And I'm not alone. The overwhelming majority of Jo'burgers are carless.
To be a pedestrian here is either to be bold or to be poor. There is public transportation to move people to and from far-off suburbs and townships – there's a new bus rapid transit system that's been developed ahead of the World Cup, as well as the Gautrain regional rail system that started this week – but public transport isn't the city's strong suit.
Filling the void is the unofficial public transit system: the minibus taxi, which more than 70% of the city's population – predominantly black residents – use to commute.
With room for 15, to however many the driver wants to try to squeeze in, thousands of minivans dot the roadways. For the budget traveller – and World Cup visitor – these people's taxis are an affordable way to get around. It costs 7.5 Rand (roughly 67p) to get from almost any point in the city to any other, or at least most of the way.
For the inexperienced, though, the rules they operate under can be bewildering. So much so that the city has issued a comprehensive guide for taxi users containing illustrations of the various hand signals that are used.
Here's what you need to know to get moving:
• Unlike metered taxis, minibus don't go door-to-door, but operate on routes, much like a bus. Unlike buses, they simply stop wherever you are on the road or wherever you want to get off.
• Learning which taxis go where and what route they're likely to take comes with practice. All a tourist really needs to know is that one forefinger up will invariably get you downtown.
• You'll end up at a series of taxi ranks, hubs of the greater system, where hundreds of taxis line up to shuttle people off to all parts of the city and beyond. The main ranks are MTN, which can get you to the upscale northern suburb of Sandton, and Metro Mall (known locally as Bree), from which you can access both of the city's World Cup stadia (Soccer City in Nasrec and Ellis Park in Doornfontein). The fan zones are at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Innes-Free Park in Sandton and Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown. Just ask one of the marshals close to the front where you queue for your destination.
• Be ready for a wild ride, as the drivers are notoriously aggressive on the roads. And if you're white, be prepared to be the only white person on board, which is a non-issue for the rest of the riders, who, when they aren't completely disinterested in anyone around them, are friendly and helpful to obvious outsiders.
• Most importantly, be ready for a true Johannesburg experience – one few tourists see, but which will show you what it's really like to live in Jo'burg.


  1. It's really great to read such an interesting article. I thank full to the author, who has written such a fabulous content.

    Minivan Taxi Santa Barbara

  2. I grew up in South Africa but left when I was 23. I now live in Australia after having been in the UK for almost 10 years...

    Things have changed so much in South-Africa, I feel like a tourist myself when visiting family.

    Did the Taxi thing once and it was quite an experience I must say. Would probably not do it again, even if it is cheap.

    Keep up the good work!