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Wednesday, 14 March, 2001, 08:32 GMT
Commuting in Cape Town
Cape Town bus station
The bus is usually the safest form of transport
As part of a series of features on how transport problems affect the everyday lives of Africans, Mohammed Allie investigates the typical day of a Cape Town commuter.

Because she does not own a car, 25-year-old schoolteacher Judy Lewis relies exclusively on Cape Town's public transport system to get to work every day.

Living in the sprawling township of Mitchell's Plain, about 25km away from Garlandale High School in Athlone where she works, Judy has a choice of three modes of transport to get to work - bus, train and minibus taxi.


I was robbed of all the money I had in my purse by two guys who had boarded the taxi as passengers

Judy Lewis
"I prefer to take the bus because it's safer than the train and more reliable than the taxi," she says.

The journey takes about 45 minutes and then it is just a short walk to school. However there are two small problems.

"I normally get soaked when it rains because there is no bus shelter to cover passengers while we're waiting for the bus. Also, the bus, which is a single decker, is often full and sometimes I have to stand for most of the journey."

Taxi war

But those hitches pale into insignificance when compared to the dangers bus commuters faced in August last year, when a section of the taxi industry was involved in a violent dispute with the bus company over routes and government subsidies.


At least six people were killed and dozens injured when a gunman, who has since confessed to being the hitman, fired at buses under the cover of darkness.

"It was quite dangerous - whenever I boarded the bus I prayed that I would get to my destination safely and in one piece. It was frustrating and nerve wracking because I didn't know whether the bus I was in would be attacked.

"During the three weeks that the conflict lasted the bus drivers told us upon boarding that they could not guarantee our safety. Fortunately I was unharmed but it was a terribly stressful time."

Taxi scares

Although taking the train is cheaper than the bus by nearly 50%, the hassle of having to change at a junction midway through the journey and the incidence of robberies on the train makes it an unattractive option for Judy.

Cape Town minibus taxi
Minibus taxis are a last resort for Judy
"On one occasion when I took the train all the commuters on our carriage were robbed of their money by a gang of youths armed with knives. To make matters worse there was no security in sight. Since then I've never taken the train again," says Judy.

Because the minibus taxi is by far the quickest mode of public transport available to Judy she is forced to use it on the rare occasions when she runs late.

"It takes about 10 minutes less than the bus although I have to take two taxis to get to school. It's much quicker to get to Hanover Park, which is about halfway, although sometimes I have to stand around for about 20 minutes to get a connecting taxi to school.

"The taxi drivers don't leave until the minibus is full so I have to wait for schoolchildren to arrive to fill it up."

Danger money

Taking a taxi costs nearly five times as much as using the bus while the reckless conduct of the drivers, makes the taxi very much a last resort for Judy.

 Cape Town train
The train is cheapest but robberies are common
"Taking the taxi is very dangerous because they tend to overload - they would squeeze six people onto a seat that can only accommodate four people. In addition they drive recklessly and take impossible short cuts - once a driver wanted to make a U-turn where it was impossible and I thought I was going to die.

"Sometimes the taxi drivers are drunk or stoned and they can't even see in front of them. Also many of the taxis are unroadworthy," says Judy.

She's also had some nasty experiences on the few occasions she's used the taxi.

"Once we got stuck without petrol and we had to wait until the driver found someone passing by to take him to a petrol station to get fuel.

"On another occasion I was robbed of all the money I had in my purse by two guys who had boarded the taxi as passengers - they demanded people's possessions at gunpoint and left immediately. Needless to say, everyone in the taxi was stressed about the situation."

With frightening encounters like those experienced by Judy on the taxi and train, it is small wonder she prefers to use the bus despite it being more expensive than the train and slower than the taxi.

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