Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps


3/10/09 Taxi troubles

I'm inventing a new category of post, called "VisitorInfo." I'll go back through and stick it on some older blogs soon (probably tonight). It will flag posts that are (I hope) especially helpful for tourists, travelers, new Morocco PCVs, and other folks who are unfamiliar with my country.

I've written before about grands taxis, the sedans (and occasionally station wagons) that are the alternative to buses for long-distance travel. Grands taxis usually travel distances between 15km and 100km. If you're going further, you'll either need to switch taxis along the way or else take a bus. (You can also rent a car or hire a car and driver; I'll talk about those options some other day.)

The vast majority of grands taxis are Mercedes Benz sedans, fairly wide-bodied, and nearly always painted dun yellow. About 90% of the time, they work like this:

You go to a taxi station. You listen for a second as the drivers shout the names of their destinations. If you hear the city you want, walk to that driver, check the fare, and wait. If you don't hear the city you want, look for the kurti (the guy- and yes, it's always a guy - in charge). He should have a fluorescent yellow vest on - those are becoming standard, lhumdullah - but if nobody is glowing, look for a guy holding a list in his hand. Tell him where you want to go. He'll either point you towards the relevant taxi or else explain why there isn't one: it hasn't come back from its last run or you need to take a taxi to an intermediate destination first, and then switch into one to your final destination. Then, again, walk to your driver, check the fare (you can also do this with the kurti), and wait.

Why wait? Why not just hop in and roll?

Because these taxis carry six passengers at a time. Two in the bucket seat, four across the back.**

They aren't like American taxis, which are meant for you, or perhaps you and a travel companion, only. These are more like very small shuttle buses.

The taxi driver won't leave until it has six people or until he (always a he) has the fares for six people. This means that, if you have the money and not the patience, you can hustle a taxi out of the station by buying extra seats.

Example: Imagine you're going from Fes to Meknes, and you're in a hurry. You get to the taxi stand, follow the cries of, "Meknes! Meknes!", and find your driver. He tells you that it's 50dh. (Don't quote me on this: I've never actually taken a taxi from Fes to Meknes, so I'm making a blind stab as to the fare.) You fork over the 50 dh, drop your bags in the trunk, and then notice that the engine is dead and nobody is sitting in the taxi. "How many seats are taken?" you ask. (Sh-Hal n blas 3mmrn?, if you're curious.) "Two," the driver replies, "You're the third." This means that the taxi won't leave until three more people show up...or until three more fares are paid for. You can either wait until three folks arrive - which may be two minutes or two hours - or you can fork over the money for the three extra fares and hit the road immediately. Many tourists opt for this latter option, valuing their time over their money. Most Moroccans and PCVs will wait for the minutes or hours until someone else arrives to pay their way.

This is how it works, as I said, around 90% of the time.

The other 10% of the time, the drivers leave the taxi stand with one or two empty seats, trusting that they'll pass by somebody who wants a ride. (Hitchhiking is incredibly common in Morocco, so any time you're traveling, you'll see people waiting hopefully along the roadways. Most get picked up by private cars, but souq buses and taxis will pick up folks too, if there's room.)

This happened to me a couple weeks ago.

I'd been in a hurry - enough of a hurry to splurge on buying two seats (which guarantees me the bucket seat next to the driver, aka comfort *and* the guarantee that no one will be pressing their body parts into mine) - but the driver was not.

We left with only three people in the backseat. I figured that one of them had bought two fares also, and didn't think much about it...until we stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. Who traveled about 5 km, then got out and paid the driver a few dirhams. A kilometer or two later, we saw another hitcher...and stopped again. This time, we went about 10km before stopping to let him off.

When you're traveling ~100km, as I was on this particular trip, it's always a tossup as to whether you want a bus or a grand taxi. Buses are usually less crowded, plus they're cheaper, but they only run every few hours and they stop for every hitcher they pass, until every seat (and sometimes the aisle) is filled. This makes them sloooooow. Usually. Since I was in a hurry, I'd opted for the taxi - 5dh more per seat, but 30-50% faster. Usually. This taxi, though, was acting like a bus - in fact, we kept leapfrogging with a bus, as both the bus and taxi kept stopping to pick up and let off folks - it took just as long as the bus would have. In fact, once I got to my destination, and was walking from the taxi stand to the bus station to pick up a bus for the next (longer) leg of the trip, that same bus passed me again, and slid into the station just before I walked in. Sigh.

** The sedans can't really fit more than six, though I've seen up to nine passengers - of the extra three, two were small, lap-carried children, and the third had crammed in next to the driver, on his left. The longer, narrower station wagons are meant to carry two in the pinched wayback, three in the middle, and one in the bucket seat. I've seen FOURTEEN people in one of these. As I recall, three were small children, one was the driver, and the other ten were full-sized passengers: two in the bucket seat, four in the middle, and four in the wayback. This violates a sheaf of laws, but the driver paid off the gendarmes we passed; the extra seven fares more than covered the price of the bribe.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps