I have a love-hate relationship with the distinctive blue and white mini-van public transport taxis in Addis. They run along various predetermined routes….or at least they are supposed to. But like everyone trying to make a little more money, the drivers’ routes deviate from time to time. As a new arrival to Ethiopia, not knowing the city, the language or any other person to depend on, to occupy my time on weekends, I took these taxis around everywhere to get to major markets around town. My first visits to Merkato as well as Shiro Meda was through the use of string of these taxis. It was novel, cheap and I got to see more of the city. Through sign language and bits of English from taxi users, I got directions on where to get off and which taxis to take to certain places. One of my more memorable taxi stop conversations, with a lovely older lady was etiquette of taking these taxis. She began to give me words of advice when she realized I was not Ethiopian and new the city. She told me the most useful word I would need on these taxis is…’waraja’ (I took it to mean stop (here))”
But that love has certainly weaned off. As the occasional pedestrian and a fellow driver along the roads of Addis, these taxis are a true menace at times. Their snaking around lanes, abrupt stops and the tendency to cut you off are somewhat annoying. There is little regard for the common pedestrian. Although in defense of taxi drivers pedestrians here are something else (at times believing that they too have licence plates attached to their front and back).
As the taxis come to an abrupt stop you find a young boy/man shouting the names of the last stop. Their rapid and peculiar way of shouting out names of boroughs around the cities needs a trained ear. For a first timer, as I once was, it was difficult to distinguish what they were saying and where they were going.
Today in an effort to regulate taxis the government has imposed predesignated routes and instructed all taxis to place signs over head. Unfortunately all the signs are in Amharic. From my Ethiopian friends, I gather that even those who can read them have had difficulty understanding the final destination as the written names don’t correspond to names of stops previously belted out.
Love them or hate them, these taxis are probably the preferred form of transport around Addis and the most abundant. Many times there aren’t enough and you find people piling up in hoards waiting for the a seat in any taxi headed in their desired direction. One thing is for sure, they definitely keep me as a driver on my toe…because you never know what to expect from them.