Taxis arguably have a reputation as the bane of South African roads. If you’ve had a run in with one (and really, who hasn’t?) you probably feel that that reputation is well deserved. It is, however, both a tough job and a vital one, as a video recently released by Primedia Outdoor (who include taxi branding in their outdoor advertising portfolio) demonstrates.
Called Taxi Man, the video shows a typical day in the life of two taxi drivers, Scelo and Ntuthuku. Taxi drivers work long hours, often seven days a week. For many of them, their day will start at around 04h30 in the morning (meaning they have to wake up at around 1am or 2am), when they go to pick up the taxis they drive. By about 09h30, the morning rush ends and they go and park at the rank to wait for the afternoon rush, finally running their last trips at around 7pm.
It’s a stressful occupation, with passengers putting the pressure on to get to work on time. “We taxi drivers can’t win,” grins Scelo. “Passengers tell us to go fast, because they can’t be late for work. And then they complain that we’re driving badly”. Add to this the fact that the driver’s take usually depends in part on how many trips he manages to fit in, so there’s good reason to squeeze in as many as possible. Because, for all the long hard hours, drivers don’t earn much. “If I work hard then I can earn about R4000 a month,” reports Scelo.
So it’s a tough job. But taxis provide an essential service, and form a vital part of the economy. Of South Africa’s 22 million economically active citizens, 77% use taxis. More than 15 million people use taxis in order to get to and from work every day – not surprising considering that nearly three quarters of households can reach a taxi service within one kilometre of their home.
The taxi network also contributes tens of billions to our economy every year, variously estimated at between R16.5 billion to as much as R40 billion each year. Moreover, an estimated 600 000 people depend on the industry for their jobs, working as rank managers, queue marshals, car washers and administrative workers.
The taxi industry was formed in 1970s to meet the demand of the growing urban workforce. Since 1994, they have become probably South Africa’s largest black-owned sector. The industry fought and worked hard to build a transport system of their own – without government subsidies. And as Gauteng roads and transport MEC, Ismail Vadis says, it works. “They might not have a printed schedule and times, but the thing works… Those who are daily commuters, they know where to go, what sign to use, all of those things”.
A lot depends on the Taxi Man.
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