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taxisTaxi hand signal user guide
A guide to hand signals used to hail taxis. In PDF format.
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Taxi fares user guide
In PDF format.
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Taxi tips

MINIBUS taxis are by far the cheapest and most popular form of public transport in South Africa, used mainly by the urban and rural poor. But if you are a visitor to Johannesburg, using a taxi can prove bewildering and even frightening. Here's a quick guide to ease your way.

To board a taxi in the city of Johannesburg, you must first travel to the appropriate taxi rank. Here, hundreds of minibus taxis converge to ferry commuters to their various destinations in and out of Gauteng province, and even across the border to neighbouring countries.

The Noord Street taxi rank is by far the largest and busiest rank in the middle of the city. As you approach the rank, especially during peak hours, you are swarmed by hordes of hurrying commuters, and confronted by hawkers peddling a variety of goods, ranging from foodstuff to clothing and anything else in-between.

From the stalls situated around the rank, you can buy yoghurt, traditional herbs or even a cold bottle of beer. A caravan selling fast food (pap and vleis being the local delicacy) is situated just metres away from two makeshift barber shops - specializing in clean shaving - otherwise known as 'cheese-kop.' Here, some commuters sneak in for a quick shave before proceeding on their journey.

This Thursday morning however, commuters have other things on their minds. Many are on their way to work. Hurrying feet are halted only by the ubiquitous presence of queue marshals shouting out different destinations. Queue marshals - this is their turf and they control it with an iron fist. Be warned not to cross their path. They are not famous for their patience or their reflection on issues. Given to acting impulsively and often with their fists, they have absolute control over taxi ranks. They have no proper job description and do anything from washing cars to counting passengers boarding taxis. But they revel in humiliating commuters.

One passenger, Ntombifuthi Matiase who works for the MTN call center in Braamfontein, commutes regularly on the Pimville - Joburg route. She cannot hide her resentment of queue marshals. She describes them as "rude, dirty and illiterate." Tebogo Mokgatle, a student at Wits University who commutes daily between Meadowlands and Braamfontein, said "If the taxi driver is not rude, then the condition of the taxi itself is appalling. We are often cramped inside taxis, which does not allow for free movement of your legs."

Another commuter, Rapule Masoga of Dobsonville who works for Mafube Publishers in Sandton, relates a harrowing experience he once had, when a queue marshal wouldn't let him sit on the front seat. The front passenger seat, the marshal insisted, is reserved for female passengers only. Rapule was physically removed and seated in his proper place. Having female passengers seated next to them, I'm told, is good for the ego of taxi drivers.

Inside the rank, commuters wait patiently in queues of varying lengths. Soon however, the queues start moving. Musi Manyoni, an Old Mutual employee from Kagiso in the West Rand is chatting in low tones to a friend as they wait on a queue to Corporate Park in Midrand, about 20km out of Jo'burg. The journey will cost him R4.00, by far, the cheapest price paid on the route. Minibus taxis are Musi's preferred mode of transport because they are cheap and "there is no other transport I can use from Kagiso to Midrand."

This reasonable cost however, comes at a price. Convenience is sacrificed as you are crammed into a 12-seater minibus with 13 other passengers. Be advised to carry loose coins lest you incur the wrath of a taxi driver who does not have enough change. Once inside the taxi, commuters make their payment seat by seat.

Some of the taxis are rickety affairs, held together only by their owners' prayers and the Grace of God. They look more like old car parts assembled in a hurry. Many however, are roadworthy and reasonably comfortable.

The success of any taxi driver depends on the number of passengers he can ferry on any given day. To maximize profit, drivers often overload their vehicles, drive at high speed and stop without warning on awkward spots to pick up passengers, much to the annoyance of other motorists. Rules of the road are suspended as drivers compete for the bottom line. Passengers are sometimes treated to the spectacle of two taxis driving dangerously close to each other as one driver asks for change from another. This recklessness has not endeared taxi drivers to law enforcement agencies. Johannesburg's newly established Metro Police Service has cracked down on unroadworthy taxis and gone to the extent of impounding some. These tough measures have helped restore a semblance of order to the industry.

Meanwhile, major initiatives are underway to completely reform the taxi industry and provide more comfort and safety to customers.

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