Facing Down Taxi Bullies

Writing after a full mug of coffee and excited about sharing with you certain recent encounters in public transport.

Public Transportation, particularly in Addis is quite frustrating for many without personal automobiles. On the other hand, many privileged with a car also complain about the constant traffic on the main roads, even with newly constructed or under-construction feeding and alternative roads. While cars exponentially populate our streets, the needed proportional infrastructure is rarely available. Though important to shed light on the matter, the focus this week is quite different.

I have heard of meetings occurring on public taxis, business deals being made in the open, long lost friends reuniting and family re-connections while waiting for adequate forms of transportation or during rides. Though intriguing and interesting, these various modes of Public transportation are not only meeting points of every kind but also platforms for reflective instances shared among strangers in moments of some sort of truth or dare.

Allow me to elaborate. It was late at night, the clock had probably struck the half hour past nine and public transportation was becoming a rare commodity. The scarcity of the vehicles that were available added to the trepidation, and hurried passengers had stacked a good twenty people in an automobile fit for a maximum of fourteen including the “redat” (the driver’s assistant).

Safety or convenience?

We sometimes find ourselves comparing our over-packed public transportation to the alarmingly stacked ones in East-Asian countries to convince ourselves how normal or better it is. Is it? What is strange is the fact the fees for taxis has gone up while the law does not state that it is legal to charge double after dark all the while being sandwiched like sardines. Many seem to have accepted even that discomfort as a way of life, as if some sort of a punishment for not owning a car.

I digress: the logic implies that the money charged at night and the rare appearances of public transportation is a sign that it is a privilege for people to stay late at night, but not a necessity. On top of the indecencies and lack of respect in their dealings with customers, the drivers and assistants often threaten to change their destination if their price demand is not met. I wonder why it makes sense to us users to allow this to happen on a daily basis.

I have noticed that while the “redat” calls out for a further destination, those waiting for shorter distances are often forced to pay the rate of a further distance. The only available choice then becomes to compromise on a still affordable price or be forced to take a contract taxi that charges more than ten times the price they would otherwise pay. I understand that arguing with them over money barely enough for a pack of gum is worthless, especially after a long exhausting day, but should that suffice to allow them power they haven’t earned?

Over the years, I have witnessed the changes in the public transportation system with great excitement. However, there are still certain things that don’t seem to ever change. I wonder if it all boils down to our stereotypical inability to serve others with professionalism and ethically. The in aptitude of most drivers to respect other drivers added to the incapacity of their assistants to respect passengers and passengers in turn disrespecting both is concerning. At times, it feels as if we expect them to misbehave so much they end up misbehaving. Whatever the case, this is unending just like the question of the chicken and the egg.

That being said, there are other noticeable perks, outside the opportunity to defend our rights for adequate transportation, safety and security. On that particular night the mini-bus refused to call for that shorter stop, one woman started an argumentative conversation with the driver inside the mini bus, upset she was being forced to pay double for a shorter distance.

The majority of the passengers were in for the longer destination and paying double what her ride costs, so he wanted her to pay the same amount for half the distance. Between the back and forth of her refusal, his insistence and a couple of indecent words thrown at her, she firmly said she wouldn’t pay. This reaction set off both the driver and the assistant to decide there and then to get all twenty passengers off and call out for another destination.

So what perks you ask?

Everyone in the taxi refused to get off, the woman ended up paying the legal rate for the ride and both the driver and the assistant lost the fight. Imagine if on a daily basis, everyone stood up for one another, not only when personally targeted but against unfairness. Do you see a better future for public transportation?

By Christine Yohannes
Christine Yohannes writes about social change, performs at public events and conducts poetry workshops in schools. She has established a monthly event entitled

Published on Jan 10,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 871]



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