Saturday, February 6, 2010


Does anyone know how taxis came to be? And why they are called taxis in the first place? Do we know why they chose to identify taxis with those multicoloured patches instead of going for a monotone? Why do we wait until cars are completely run down before we convert them into taxis and why do they have all these “poetic”, often misspelled and misunderstood writings on them? All these we may never know. However, there are a few things that we do know about taxis and I am here to share them with you.

Let’s start with the word “Taxi” itself: what does it mean? I’ve done some research and it turns out that the word taxi is short for taxicab, which in itself is a contraction of “taximeter cabriolet”. (Cabriolet is a type of a horse-drawn carriage). The word, as the brilliant ones amongst you may have figured out already, is originally French. But I won’t bore you anymore with the etymology of the word taxi.

[caption id="attachment_153" align="aligncenter" width="495" caption="New York Taxi"]New York Taxi[/caption]

The use of taxis started way back in Rome, in the 1800s. Then it moved into the US, Canada and it trickled to downtown Ghana, Africa. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

By the way, did you know that the colour yellow is the colour most easily seen from a distance? So says Wikipedia.

Let’s come to Ghana where taxis are coloured in combinations of blue+yellow+black or orange+brown+green and several other intriguing combinations. Besides the colour codes they come in, there is a lot to learn about them.

Take for instance the writings on them. The other day I drove past a parked taxi, which proclaimed in bold lettering; “GOD IS MY SEATBELT”. Frankly, that statement left me dazed for a minute, maybe two. Did it mean that because God was his seatbelt, he wasn’t going to wear any; or was that statement to day that whether or not he wore a seatbelt God would keep him safe from any accidents? What about your passengers? Is God their seatbelt too? There are many ways you can debate on this statement. I could write a whole thesis on this. Trust me. Does anyone know whether these “taxi quotes” are the mantras of the car owners or the philosophies by which taxi drivers live? Imagine being crossed by a taxi with the quote “NO HURRY IN LIFE” written across it. Yeah, I know.

[caption id="attachment_156" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="taxi"]taxi[/caption]

There’s a certain culture with taxi drivers.  They spend almost all their time on the road that they believe they live on the road corridor and as such everyone else must bow in their presence and give them way. You know what I mean: zigzagging across lanes, stopping abruptly to pick up passengers, slowing down at junctions to peering down to sight potential passengers…the list could go on.

I sat in a taxi the other day and the driver went no more than 50kmph the whole time. I promise! So I asked him in Twi, “can’t your car go any faster? He replied, saying that if he went any faster, he would burn more fuel. Like hell you will. With that reply, I couldn’t ask any further questions. I didn’t want his car to jerk itself to a stop in the middle of the journey and be stranded along the side of the road.  So I sat in there quietly like a good girl until I got to my destination 20 minutes late for my appointment.

a typical taxi rank

When it comes to taxi traffic talk (language), taxi drivers have a complete set of unique gestures; there’s one for when you don’t give them the chance to cut in front of you in a logjam; there’s one for when you honk at them to drive faster (this is when they are on the prowl for passengers); there’s another one for when they meet a fellow taxi driver; there are also a few gestures that you would rather not have them make at you. I have no doubt that you get this often. They cross you in traffic unexpectedly and when you honk your horn at them, they simply throw their hand out of the window as though you were a fly they were trying to swat. It is, if nothing at all, the most annoying hand movement in traffic.

I pray, I sincerely do pray that the next time a taxi driver throws out his hand out his window after a display of ignorance of traffic rules, oh I pray, that his hand gets chopped off! I’m serious.

The gesture is slightly different with most private car drivers. They simply wave at you as though that is enough to have prevented a near accident.

I will be back with my next post with some more info on a few things to note when dealing with taxis; either as a driver or passenger in a taxi.

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