I have always considered myself a street smart and socially savvy progressive woman. I have traveled to a number of cosmopolitan cities and have quite easily adapted to their public transport systems. On a recent trip to Johannesburg I figured instead of laboring my brother with the task of driving me around I would try to use the public transport and travel around the city independently.
On arrival to the city I hopped on the Gautrain to Sandton which was quick, fast and painless. I already had my gold card, all i had to do was load it with cash and I was good to go. My real feel of Joburg transport only started when I hopped onto a metered taxi from the Gautrain Station to my brother’s house. When I got into the cab and let him know where I was going we agreed on a certain amount which I was happy with and off we went. Upon arrival at my brother’s house the gentleman decided my accent and my luggage warranted for me to be charged more and he raised the fare! I was so upset and after 5minutes of unproductive arguing we parted ways, he an extra R100 richer.
After settling in I set off to do my errands. Being already peeved by my cab experience I decided I would try out the ever popular Joburg Taxis! I inquired where I could catch one of these and walked to the stop. As far as I have experienced in Zimbabwe, there are two types of public transport operators; kombis and ipsums. Both are very standard and if you stand on the side of the street they will stop and take you to where you are going. The side of the street you stand on determines the final destination. Based on my neighborhood, if you stand on the left side of the street you are headed to town, if you stand on the right side you are either headed to the university or somewhere deeper within the neighborhood.
When I arrived at the stop I made the wrong assumption that any taxi that went by would stop. After standing at the stop for over 15minutes with no such luck, I observed a man raise his index finger and point it to the sky and immediately a taxi stopped! EUREKA I thought! I must point for a taxi to stop. The next taxi that came by honked and I pointed to the sky and BOOM just like that it stopped. I figured seeing as I was not familiar with where I was going I should sit in the front seat with the driver and so I jumped into the front.
A few minutes later other people started getting on the taxi. Each person that came in would say sabona( hello) which for me was strange. I am not used to people being friendly when they ride in public transport. After driving for about ten minutes I realized the taxi was not headed in the direction I wanted to go but was too scared to ask where it was going and just figured I would take the scenic route to my final destination. Turns out by pointing into the sky I had indicated I wanted to go to town and that’s exactly where I was being taken! (TOWN IS NOT WHERE I WANTED TO GO)
As is tradition the passengers started passing along their fares. Unbeknownst to me the person seated in the front collects all the fares and calculates the change as well! So for every fare I received I just shoved the money into the glove compartment assuming the driver would at some point count his money and work out all the change. The real drama began when people had arrived at their various destinations and wanted to disembark but had not received their change. The people started shouting and screaming for their change and I was looking at the driver thinking, “Yeah buddie do your job”. The driver then turned to me and asked me why I had not given the people their change. It was at this point that I realized the insults were directed to me. Now I had the job of trying to figure how much change each person was to get. To worsen the situation turns out the fare for the taxi is not standard as is in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe generally it does not matter where you got onto the taxi, the general kombi fare is R5. Now it turns out some people had paid R11 some had paid R15. I just wished the earth could swallow me right at that point! Eventually we had the fare situation figured out and I finally worked up the nerve to ask the driver where the taxi was going! I then found out I was headed to town and if I wanted to get where I was originally headed I needed to ride two other taxis! At that point the pain I had endured was not worth it and I just completed my journey in a metered taxi where I didn’t have to play bus conductor and didn’t have to fear the retribution of angry taxi riders who hadn’t received their change.
However from my crazy taxi experience this is what I learned, before you ride a taxi you must:
1. Know where you are going!
Joburg is too big a place to be lost and not the safest place to be lost either! Save yourself the hustle of riding around in circles by knowing your final destination
2. Learn your hand signals
For every destination in Joburg there is a special hand signal. To avoid ending up on the wrong side of the city learn your hand signals and use them well
3. DO NOT SIT IN THE FRONT SEAT
Unless you enjoy calculating fares and playing bus conductor do not sit in the front seat. However avoid sitting right at the back too if you know your stop is one of the first ones. People generally do not like standing up and getting out of the taxi to let that one person seated right at the back out.
4. Be polite but STERN
Speak when spoken to and respond to all greetings. However do not be too friendly! Your friendliness might be mistaken for weakness and that makes you an easy target for thieves and pick pockets at the taxi ranks.
5. Know the Taxi Lingo
It is essential to know your taxi lingo lest you stick out like a sore thumb. It is not ok to yell: “I wanna get off here”, when you want to disembark. Terms like: After Robot, short left are quite nifty when indicating you would like to get off the taxi!
6. Always have a PLAN B!
Nowadays there is an app for everything! Find an app for taxis 🙂
Consider yourself schooled! You are now ready to ride a taxi in the bustling streets of Johannesburg. Remember if all else fails: stick to the Gautrain and metered taxis! Happy Travelling 🙂
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ernest Hemingway