Namibia does not have city buses or any of the more traditional forms of public transport within cities that we would think of back in the U.S. (Interestingly, Windhoek does have bus stop shelters randomly placed around the city, and yet I have seen no buses. Perhaps there used to be bus routes – if so, they are now long gone.) Instead it has taxis. Taxis are everywhere in Windhoek and easily hailed. Taking a taxi here, however, is completely different than taking one in the States or Europe. First of all, there is no meter. Rides cost N$7.50 (about US$1) per person to go to a taxi “rank” or traditional stop, and N$15 to go directly to a house or location NOT at a rank. This system can get complicated, as ranks outside of downtown are not generally labeled, so if you are new here, like myself, you learn by trial and error where to get out. Even more confusingly, not everyone agrees whether certain street corners farther afield, for example, are $7.50 fares or $15. After dark, taxi drivers will often charge you more than $15. As with pretty much everything here, negotiation is expected.
To get a taxi, you do not have to go to a rank or a specific stop. Just walk along a main road. Cabs with empty seats going in your direction will beep and/or flash their lights. (As you can imagine, there is constant beeping on main roads, especially at rush hour.) If you want a ride, just hold out your hand and the car will stop. All the taxi drivers are private operators – there are no big cab companies you can call to come to your house. Well, there are one or two such companies that cater to tourists; I called one and they quoted me a price four times what it would cost in a regular cab.
Once in the taxi, there is no telling how long the ride might take, because the drivers try to pick up other passengers. The fares are per person, so the more people they have in a taxi, the more money they make. Generally though, the rule is that the first people in are the first to arrive. There is very little in the way of traffic in Windhoek, which helps.
In many ways, I find this system of transportation more convenient than buses at home. There are no transfers, and very little waiting. There is also a little adventure to it – I’ve met some interesting people as fellow passengers or drivers, and also some amusing ones. However, there is an element of risk. Women (and some would say men too) are not supposed to take taxis alone after dark, as they could easily be robbed or attacked by the driver. The risk is elevated for foreigners. Drivers, too, court danger. One night I got in a taxi with a friend and the driver told us that he had just been beaten up and robbed by two female passengers!
Drivers are sometimes talkative and I enjoy hearing their stories. They usually come from rural areas of Namibia, hoping to make some cash and expand their opportunities in the capital city. They work crazy hours, usually 5 or 6 AM to at least 8 or 9 PM. Some work late on weekends. Most that I have asked have greater ambitions – to own some farmland, or to go to university. The life of a taxi driver is tough and for the young.
Posted By Johanna Wilkie
Posted Jul 15th, 2009