Many researchers in Public Transport (transit), never actually use the modes they research about nor write about. Even consultants who guide governments to make complex investment decisions struggle to make the transit trip as part of their daily routine. Well, I can imagine that there’s a stark difference between a chef who actually eats her cooking and one who tastes what everyone has to offer and advises on the best alternative.

I’m sitting in a taxi from the Tshwane CBD to a nearby suburb. It cost everyone R15 to make this trip. The route is very different from the one I grew up using, and this is mainly because of the new BRT routes that are practically brewing commercial impatience among taxi drivers.

First and foremost traveling from the Airport by train to Tswane was one thing. The next leg of my trip was catching a bus to the CBD where taxis occupy major arterials in a highly convinient way. The bus service was not designed to drop people off to catch other modes: but rather to drop them off in the CBD — “walk the rest, no matter your cargo.”

To know where the taxi is caught is truly a question and answer session with marshals along the way. Call them ‘Custodians of Service’ because they ensure order and encourage security of both passengers and driver trips. Along this long vein of market sales people, big and small shops the custodians and their assistants serve to alert the distant potential passenger where a taxi can be caught. From a municipal perspective it’s one thing to offer space for ranking (queuing vehicles), it’s another thing to offer information boards, coherent maps and facilities suitable for the many occupations rattling to the buzz of travel demand.

At this point I can hear the driver rationing his operations for the day:

“I’ll have to try make six, at least seven, but I’m supposed to make eight today — I started late. In fact I won’t make eight because I have a special trip today.” [special trips are hired services like picking up a litter of toddlers from a creshé]

Defending their operations while not experiencing similar offerings as bus services concerns many minibus operators. The passenger experience of doing calculus at the front row seat; and passing hard earned paper in common union will fade then. The street mathematician will now count cards; the interactions flat and without a sense of humour insulting some and engulfing others. Everyone will start sinking into their phones and no questions will surface; just a silent tripping drugging us with fumes and lanes dedicated to being violated and inequitable.

This is a morbid picture for “advance” mobility systems that don’t facilitate a community of interaction; or trade them off for technical efficiency rather than living efficiencies. The endorphin rush of calculus and conversation confronts mugging and cash shortages; while fighting for the majority’s ability to access opportunities to participate in something.

The “special” services will no longer allow a driver to raise the kids too, as most of us did with 1 driver for a few years. I remember his old dark face, peaking teeth standing far apart and a focused voice contrasting his E20 minibus: bright blue! When I left town I wondered if the city living and hanging would ever be a place we disappear into to — not just to seek refuge and escape in.

Movement in public transport is surely a sense of common unity: something I miss when driving — like I’m just part of the tar. 🚦

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