Changing perspective: These taxi drivers are looking fly
Taxi drivers want increased respect for their profession‚ comparable to airline pilots in whose hands rests the fate of scores of lives. And those from the Ivory Park Taxi Association near Midrand say they've found a way to do it - by donning a shirt and tie.
On Monday we visited the rank and spoke to a driver about whether the change of attire came with a change of attitude for those who ferry hundreds of commuters on a daily basis.
“All I know is that taxi drivers are perceived to be violent people and this was done to prove that the taxi industry is also an occupation‚ a respectable occupation‚” said taxi driver Linda Phiri‚ who was wearing a check shirt‚ with his dreadlocks neatly tied back.
“We want to be taken seriously in the same way that pilots are taken seriously‚” Phiri commented‚ saying that just like pilots‚ the lives of scores of people rested in their hands daily.
Mondays and Fridays at this taxi rank are shirt and tie day. Wednesdays are golf shirt days. On Tuesdays‚ Thursdays and the weekends the drivers are free to dress as they please.
“We get a lot of compliments when we are dressed like this‚" said Phiri. "Before this we were called abomageza (empompini)‚ but dressing up like this has changed that‚” he said. Loosely translated‚ the term mageza empompini means 'he who bathes by the tap'.
There is a downside to his smart wear‚ Phiri said. “At times we get stuck on the side of the road or we need to change a tyre. It doesn’t look good when you're wearing a shirt with oil and all that dirt‚” he said.
At this taxi rank‚ failure to adhere to the dress code results in a fine of between R250 and R500.
Phiri said that he felt other taxi associations should follow in their footsteps.
“It’s important to be presentable and it’s good if there is a difference between you and a passenger‚” he said.
Phiri was asked whether the change in attire meant drivers would adopted sedate speeds on the road.
“Not necessarily‚ because we still need to get [the passenger] to work on time and we also have daily targets. Following behind traffic will mean that we don’t meet those targets and also‚ we are left with unhappy customers‚” he replied.
Some of the drivers were on Monday sporting bowties and chinos pants‚ but check shirts with ties seemed most popular.
Despite being proud of their smart appearances‚ the taxi drivers TimesLive spoke to said they were “camera shy” and refused to have their pictures taken.
Commuters who spoke to this publication appear to need convincing of the value of drivers’ attempts at a clean-cut look.
“Well‚ the driving is the same. During the morning peak hour‚ it takes me the normal 20-30 minutes to get to Sandton‚" said one commuter‚ Zanele Zama. "Wearing formal [clothes] is just nice and it takes away the stereotype that they don't bath.”
She said not all taxi drivers got the look right‚ with some wearing shirts that didn’t match with the pants or others who paired shorts with shirts and ties. “But they try‚” she said.
Pinky Nzimande agreed that it was a nice sight to see‚ but “taxi drivers are taxi drivers”‚ she said.