The taxi industry is the most commonly used mode of transport, yet safety remains undermined.
“Just don’t kill me! Just don’t kill me! Just don’t kill me!” I say this repeatedly in my head through the entire journey. I know it’s a wish I and my fellow taxi commuters focus on as we are tossed around at the mercy of the driver on Johannesburg’s roads. I take a taxi at least two to three times a week – unavoidable trips that feel like I am dicing with death. My aim is simple, to get to my destination safely. My driver’s aim though is to transport as many passengers as possible as he tries to compete with the almost 200 000 minibus taxis on the roads in the province of Gauteng.
As I sit in agony and hope not to die while unwittingly and randomly collapsing onto the shoulders of my fellow commuters pressed against me, I wonder how many of us have this wish. Arrive Alive suggests that at least half us in the taxi should, as 52% of road fatalities are taxi drivers or passengers. The often deafening silence on my commute suggests that maybe us passengers from the 63% of households that use taxis as a mode of transport according to StatsSA, don’t condemn the reckless driving. That we’ve accepted that this is how it is and always will be.
We don’t complain about the faulty taxi doors that threaten to fall out on those sharp bends that always seem to be headed for the curb. Neither do we ask the driver why we’re seeing the bottom of the road from inside the taxi. Nor do we ask why a taxi hand break is being held together by a weight resembling half a brick. Or at least I don’t.
Mine is to arrive alive. Safe and sound, but rarely am I. As I sit in the taxi and hang on for dear life onto what used to be leather seats but are now display windows for yellow inner sponges and bent steel wires, I wonder if the driver ever considers mine. I think mine may be lost in his contribution of transporting some of the 15 million commuters a day.
As he inconsiderately changes lanes narrowly missing the car he’s overtaking and skips red robots, I bite my teeth and hold my breath in protest, hoping not to hold it forever.
It baffles me that an industry that generates R90 billion rand every year has taxis that are in such poor conditions. What adds to my anxiety is the fact that even after the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) embarked on its ‘Operation Buya Mthetho’ to remove more than 500 unroadworthy taxis since January, I’m still transported by an anxiety trigger almost daily.
At a media briefing to display the conditions of impounded taxis by the City, Mayor of Johannesburg Herman Mashaba tweeted, “This un-roadworthy vehicle was on the road just last week transporting children. We struggled 2 open the door & the conditions inside were unsafe & unfit for public transportation let alone children.”
This un-roadworthy vehicle was on the road just last week transporting children.
We struggled 2 open the door & the conditions inside were unsafe & unfit for public transportation let alone children#BuyaMthetho #JoburgRoadSafety @JMPDSafety @AsktheChiefJMPD @MichaelSun168 pic.twitter.com/b5PHUEv1sE
— Herman Mashaba (@HermanMashaba) June 26, 2018
I encounter more taxis that are in poor conditions than those that are not. But even in the lucky event that I do find a taxi in good condition, it is still met by the seriously reckless driving. The gamble is a lose-lose for the passenger. And as for me, well, I’m still surrendering and wishing to just not be killed.