What do we know about the long-distance commute?

RUSTENBURG– For a city, there is much intervention pending. Navigating through the decaying taxi rank, adjacent to the bus terminal on the verge of collapse a Bus Rapid Transit network is under construction here. Finance running thin, and engagements standing secure deep questions lean on this roof-top horizon. Minibus taxis queue to join the main terminal. While they wait, they are washed, food is prepared and repairs are conducted. There is a special spirit here with drivers waiting in their mobile offices for their shift along the major corridors. After years of commuting long-distances in public transport, I’ve always had concerns about this sector. Most of the time, our inputs would land on deaf ears. It makes me wonder: what do we know about the long-distance commute?

At any given moment, someone comes knocking, speaking, looking or screaming through the window. Anyone occupying the window seat knows that they sometimes have to mediate the commerce between some people. It could be the Indians selling all kinds of tech accessories; it could be someone selling frozen water, energy drinks and pies. Nowadays, it’s pizza and soon enough cappuccinos. For some reason people love to eat while commuting. Sometimes they skip breakfast and grab something cheap, fresh and filling from street retailers. They are open, and ready to sell– while keeping their produce as fresh as possible throughout the flactuating demand. That aside, commuters and drivers have heavy stories to tell, I’d like to reflect a bit on that.

Our naked assumption as regulators reverberates perverted narratives we seek to ignore, instead of enable a more conducive and professional environment for our drivers, fathers, mothers and neighbours.

How far the chat could go

For long distance commuters the conversation is special: could we eat as much as we do because it’s boring? So much so, that the inexperienced will drool on other sleeping passengers along the journey. Stacking slimy scars on one’s travel wear is common place for the young, inebriated, exhausted and inexperienced alike. While still having to confront the contortions needed to keep your body stable and firm for the weekly, monthly or bi-annual commute. Comfort is not an issue. Refuse-chucked-out-the-window is percieved as job creation, all the while someone tasked by the marshal to sweep had just plucked the feathers from all the litter on a windy day.

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The commuter crisis is real, tangible and scented. You see it at the bus terminal, you hear it in the street retailers. You smell it through town, you hear it from the mechanic. It doesn’t take an arial view to have perspective. Whereas at least there is shade from the most us– which is sometimes rare. But operators, idle in the sun, slowly rolling intermitently toward the chopping block where new journies are bought. 

Local taxis have much more legroom than the long distance type. I never really noticed until recently. Conversations are sustained for longer than in passenger flights. Strangers explore their neighbours much deeper than “where are you going?” ; “oh your family is there?” Depending on your neighbour’s personality, a life story could penetrate through headphone and jack up your very perception before plugging in again. As luggage leans between all passengers down the isle, after it waited to join in the commute, these bags serve as armrests for the isle passengers: a luxury window sitters can not enjoy.

Waiting to exhale the unpredictable

The upredictable always emerges. Unpredictable things that take a bit more than courage. With an aging fleet, increasing cost of living, the wear and tear of full-time transport vehicles can be expensive for a driver-owner. Homemade repairs, various special hire trips in between. These men operate from early mornings to late nights, finding places to rest too. With the last trip terminating in some areas later than 22:00, one must ask: “where do these men go after these commutes? What do they eat? Are they safe? Who cares for them? Our naked assumption as regulators reverberates perverted narratives we seek to ignore, instead of enable a more conducive and professional environment for our drivers, fathers, mothers and neighbours. Blatantly neglegted, a driver’s lifecycle is subject to a number of factors, but his mere confrontation with the elements: long drive, long hours seated, and a potential health risks. In addition to their role in society as fathers, partners and friends– extended and stretched as they do the distance.

Hours go by, and the sun still stalls my mind. By the time the syliva had scared my shirt, and the journey was up I was undoubtably in Rustenburg, a city on the cusp of a new age.

*Thank you. This piece was originally drafted on January 10th, 2019. Previous notes on long-distance travel focus on doing the distance in the SA bus commute. 


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