Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Word About Taxis 13/1/12 I won't claim to have an extensive knowledge of taxis around the world by any means, but I've had the chance to experience a few different sorts in the countries in which I've lived, so I thought I'd give my humble observations about this typical type of city transportation. Let's begin with my home country, the USA. In the States, my experience with taxis is limited to New York City, and I'm not an aficionado on the particulars, so forgive me any small mistakes. In my recollection, in the USA, you flag down a taxi, which is often a car or maybe a mini van, designated as a taxi usually by a lighted sign on the roof and/or writing on the door. You tell the the driver where you want to go and he'll take you there. As far as I know, they can't refuse a fare, they don't have set routes per se, and you pay according to the length of the trip, as counted out by a meter on the dashboard of the car. The driver won't pick up another fare until you are dropped off at your destination, or you have agreed to share the taxi. In Namibia taxis are also cars and they are denoted by writing on the side doors and/of numbers on the windows of the vehicle. You flag one down or the driver comes to you and offers his services by calling "taxi?" if you happen to be near a taxi rank and/or coming out of a shop or perhaps you just look like you're looking for a ride. You tell the driver where you want to go and he decides if he wants to take you there based on the benefit to him, how long it will take to get there, how many others he might find or has already found to go to the same general area, and how likely he can find fares on a return trip. If he doesn't think it's a good deal for him, he can refuse you and so you start over again. Prices are generally set. One price for typical in-town trips, another price for going all the way across town. Long trips are generally negotiated with the driver on a case-by-case basis. Taxi drivers try to get as many fares as possible, which means sometimes sitting and waiting in the car until he has decided it is sufficiently full. This also means you may find yourself pressed between two rather large sweaty people in the backseat with shopping bags and all. In Russia there are three options that I noted while in Saint Petersburg. Option #1 is like the taxis in NYC, the are run by official taxi companies, are designated by signs, and take individual fares where they want to go. This is the most expensive option in the city, often over-priced, but probably the safest choice. Option #2 is to ride by flagging down a regular car, unmarked, either driven by regular driver or someone using their own car to work as an unofficial taxi driver. It's kind of like hitchhiking for a price. With this option when you flag down a car, you negotiate the price with the driver. If you are both satisfied, you get in and he'll take you to your destination. Option #3 is to take marshrutka. This is a minibus which is designated by numbers on the vehicle. They have set routes which are listed on the side windows. Marshrutkas work much like buses because they have set routes, but they don't have particular set stops. When you get inside, you take a seat (if there is a seat available) and pass your money up to the driver, who often makes change while zipping through the busy streets. The drivers aren't known for their careful driving, but they do generally try to follow basic rules of the road. Marshrutkas also try to get as many fares are possible during a trip, so you may find all of the seats occupied, but there still may be space to stand in the aisle or near the door. When you near your destination, simply yell up to the driver to inform him where he needs to stop. In my opinion, Angola has the most interesting taxis so far. They are similar to marshrutkas, in that they are also minibuses and and have set routes. But there are some particularities which make them specifically Angolan. Unlike the Russian marshrutkas, which have numbers and their routes labeled on the side of the vehicle, the way you know the route of a taxi here in Lubango is the young guy hanging out the side window of the van yelling the name of the destination. This guy's job is to alert people on the street to the direction/destination of the taxi, to collect the fares of the riders, to alert the driver of when to stop, and to open and close the door. For some reason, I'm fascinated with these guys. Something about the hanging halfway out the window or open door of a moving taxi as it weaves through traffic and dodges the rifts in the road says "adrenaline junkie", or maybe "stupid" depending on your interpretation. One last thing you need to know about the driving here is that the majority of intersections have no signage at all. No traffic lights, no stop signs, no one directing traffic, just approach the intersection, look for other cars coming into your path and try not to hit each other. In other words, pay attention and pray. Maybe now you understand my fixation on the guys hanging out the sides of the taxis. Today's parting shot - my tribute to the taxi callers: "All in a Day's Work"

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