Lihle Tshabalala
Lihle Tshabalala

Take a short left, captain

So the taxi industry wants to launch a low-cost airline. Seriously? As soon as this year? I’m nervous, shocked but most of all appalled. Of course I’m not one of those absurd people who think Baba Mkhize from the Bree taxi rank will give up his fake leather jacket, izincab’elela and fong kong Nike Clima-FIT cap as a taxi marshal for a skimpy ground attendant’s uniform and bad make-up. But he could very much appreciate those trench coats that come in different colours.

The shock comes mostly from the fact that the taxi industry has a war on its hands. I’m waiting for them to take up arms and fight, the BRT war. For close to two years I held a major grudge against the government, which I felt was being a bully. Bullying commuters to cramp on a single, narrow lane on journeys from deep Soweto to Joburg CBD every single day. The consequences of which were major for many, myself included and it’s still going on.

I had to take the extreme step of moving out of eKasi to make it to work on time. Giving up my mother’s home-cooked meals and rent-free living. And what did the taxi industry do? Like a helpless, big-eyed child with a runny nose and baggy school jersey they walked the other way with arms covering their faces crying and didn’t put up a fight. I still maintain that the BRT issue is a legal matter the taxi associations could take to court.

My nervousness, yoh, can you imagine the chaos? I mean not that there is no chaos with the airline companies but if you’ve taken a taxi more than five times you know the taxi drivers and marshals do as they please with passengers. You are likely to be abused, one way or another, at least twice a week, either inside or while waiting for a taxi. Most of the abuse is verbal and usually collective. So a taxi driver will tell a taxi full of people how stupid they are because two people brought R100 notes to pay fare in the morning. “You think you are the only ones with money? Do I look like an accountant? Do I look like I drive around with loose change?” Really, is paying with a R100 note that serious at 7am when you’ve been awake since 4am?

Worst-case scenario? Being told to get off in Nowhereville because you think you are an independent women who tells men what do. “Here you have reached a dead end. I am not your man you b*%#” And then even more vulgar language follows. Often out of anger and humiliation passengers will take down the taxi’s registration number to report the incident to the association. And does anything happen? Take a wild guess …

How then are complaints, luggage claims and all the other nitty-gritty of running an airline going to be handled?

As a self-dubbed chief commuter, I think I know most — if not all — one needs to know about public transport and I can tell you that long-distance travel in a taxi and bus offer two completely different experiences. The experience on a bus, even the “low-cost” ones, is humane. There’s still a sense of respect between the bus drivers and passengers. Getting to Ladysmith will take a heck of a lot longer but it’s pleasantly worth the wait.

The fact that there is an almost unwritten law that no one has the right to tell the driver he is driving too fast — lest we upset him and who knows what he might do to all 16 of us — is almost unbelievable to me. Notwithstanding the fact that our lives are at stake due to his reckless driving.

Yes, running a low-cost airline and running a taxi empire are two different things. The one is run within the constraints of a more structured body and the other is the free-for-all of a bunch of men notorious for starting shooting sprees over routes and even things as silly as overtaking each other on the road. But the principle is the same: they all want to cater for the mass population, desperate for a better life and certainly better services.

Frankly, I am done being part of the mass population that gets treated like dirt by all sorts of organisations, from Shoprite to Mango airlines and the taxi industry just because I cannot afford anything better. I’m not quite sure what that means realistically because I still cannot afford the other alternative but I should be able to figure it out pretty soon (I think).

For the record, I’ve been on Mango once when I missed my SAA flight and in their defence, the on-flight experience was not an entirely bad one apart from it literally being an air-bus (please underline the word bus). I have, however, been spoken down to by a ground attendant working for Mango who told me I would miss my flight if I didn’t stop asking too many questions.

As for the taxi industry, too much needs to be fixed on the ground before they jet off on other ventures.

Crosscheck on land before take-off guys.