The mind of a Soweto taxi

I caught a taxi from Bree Street taxi centre in downtown Joburg. It was like a massive car park filled with taxis weaving in between queues of commuters.

It took me about four questions before I found myself at the end of a queue. I was the sixteenth person in line, which is exactly the capacity of the combi. So I ended up in the back seat, which is a real squeeze at four people. I could hardly get my hands in my pocket to find the money for the fare. From Joburg city to Orlando in Soweto is 6 rand 50 cents, which is about $1.11 Australian.

The processing of the fare is one of the mysteries of taxi travel. A row of commuters might pool their money and then pass it down the cab to the driver. Otherwise, someone sends their money on with a little message, like ‘This is for two’. The phrase ‘This is for two’ then repeats four times until it reaches the driver, who then sends the change down the same chain.

There seems to be no issue at all about trust, even though it would be easy for someone to avoid payment. I had the sense that it is quite a self-regulated system. Perhaps that comes with being a largely unregulated industry. There’s no sense of profits going to a nameless foreign multinational, as happens in cities like Melbourne.

Though I do remember catching taxis in Cape Town where there was always a guy who acted as a jockey, collecting fares on behalf of the driver. So perhaps it’s also to do with the more cohesive township life in Soweto, where people have learned by experience to look after each other.

Speaking of which, the owner of my B&B seems to keep her front door wide open during the day. So this is the crime-ridden Soweto that everyone talks about? Let’s see what tomorrow holds.

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