Johanna Wilkie

Johanna Wilkie (Breaking the Wall of Silence in Windhoek): Johanna lived and worked in Rome, Italy for two years teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). After her return to hometown of Boston, she taught immigrants and college students ESL for two years before moving to Los Angeles to work as a program manager at a California non-profit. At the time of her fellowship, Johanna was studying for a Masters degree in international affairs and development at Georgetown University, and working toward a Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. She also interned at the International Rescue Committee as an Africa Advocacy Intern.



“Public” Transportation in Windhoek

15 Jul

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.

At least somebody is getting some use out of this bus shelter.  In Katutura, down the street from my office.

At least somebody is getting some use out of this bus shelter. In Katutura down the road from my office.

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.

Driver Yambo with his chariot.  The writing on the side lets you know that this cab is officially licensed.

Driver Yambo with his chariot. The writing on the side lets you know that this cab is officially licensed.

Posted By Johanna Wilkie

Posted Jul 15th, 2009

239 Comments

  • Sandra Vermeer

    July 22, 2009

     

    What an amazing taxi system in Windhoek!! This was very fun and interesting to read as I am making policy on taxi’s in the Netherlands. Which of course is completely different than the situation in Namibia, but still good to hear stories about taxi’s abroad.
    Seems like you have become an experienced user 🙂

    Keep up with the stories, love reading about your adventures!

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