Thursday, February 12, 2009

South African Road Transport

Rows of minibusses line up waiting for their passengers

I always do my monthly grocery shopping in a neighbouring town, Ladybrand on the Lesotho border. This month I actually did it on Friday which is normally not my favourite shopping or travelling day. Once finished, as I drove down the main street of the town, I noticed a long row of minibus taxis. They were all parked and waiting for their weekend fare to finish work and other business in this larger-than-normal Free State town. Seeing them here got me thinking about minibusses in South Africa.

The minibus taxi industry in South Africa has by far the largest market share in public transport. Despite all the difficulties that continue to plague the minibus taxi industry, there is evidence to show that the industry is increasing its market share against all other modes of transport.

Nothwithstanding its turbulent history and the fact that during the apartheid era it was unregulated, the minibus taxi industry is today the most critical pillar of our public transport sector. Not only is it the most available mode of transport, it is also the most affordable to the public.

Commuting between the larger cities in our country, many people make use of minibus transport. Household-, shop-, office- and government workers often live far out of the city and have to travel vast distances to their place of work. Minibusses collect and drop off passengers
at the most out-of-the-way places.

For the businessman, there is no better way to travel. Minibus companies are offering services to their passengers which are on a par with any air shuttle service in this country. One particular company in Johannesburg offers various onboard features “for businesses on the go” such as a laptop with internet access, copy/printing/postage/courier facilities to be arranged from the vehicle. For the man or woman who wants to relax and collect their thoughts before starting a hectic day, there are diversions such as dvd’s, music and a selection of the daily newspapers. Their slogan goes: “Use our excellent on-board facilities and catch up on work or relaxation before arriving at your destination.” Another boasts: “With the current global corporate catchphrase being ‘time is money’ a ‘one stop solution' plays a vital role in travelling."

These taxis are a far cry from the vehicles of the eighties where a 16-seater minibus would be crammed with at least 28 passengers; perhaps even one or two more, because the [unlicensed] driver has removed the steering wheel and is controlling the vehicle with a vice grip! Then travellers not only rode in total discomfort due to the cramp seating space, they were also in dire danger of being involved in a road accident due to the overloaded state of the vehicle.

Many of today’s taxis boast of drivers with legal driver’s licences; the driver’s eyesight and driving abilities are tested annually often with a refresher driving course. Their drivers adhere to the speed limit and the road traffic signs. Many taxis are kept in a roadworthy condition and most have air-conditioning. Many have a tow hitch to draw a trailer in which the luggage is transported.

Passengers are also assured that only reservation fares are lifted which means a safe environment for legal travellers. This is a big plus in the current South Africa climate of high-jacking and armed robbery.

As motorcyclists, my husband and I are always amazed by the courtesy extended to us on us by these fellow road-users. Taxis always move over to the side and more often than not, the driver will wave his arm out of this window indicating that it is safe for us to overtake. When we're abreast of a motorist which has shown us such consideration, my husband always extends his left hand in appreciation and we always get a toot on the horn in reply!

I laud and praise the modern, law-abiding minibus owners of Southern Africa. Congratulations on overcoming many obstacles of the past and not-so-distant past: taxi wars, cultural conflict, racism and general problems related to travel in our country.

Keep up the good work.

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