South Africa

PHOTO ESSAY

Bree Street — the not-so-busy taxi rank

Taxis stand on the rooftop of the Bree Street Taxi Rank during peak hour. Operators are complaining that they are not making enough to make ends meet. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The roads in the CBD of Johannesburg seem relatively quiet on Tuesday afternoon as commuters make their way home. There is some traffic as more people return to work, but nothing like the gridlock South Africans were accustomed to before the countrywide lockdown on 27 March, 2020.

The country entered into Level 3 lockdown on 1 June and despite people going back to work, things are still quiet.

A commuter has his hands sanitised before boarding a taxi. Drivers provide passengers with sanitiser at their own expense. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

At the Bree Street Taxi Rank, commuters make their way to a few lined-up taxis. The mall joining the taxi rank is also relatively quiet with a few shopkeepers sitting outside watching commuters go by. The strong smell of marijuana lingers in the air and a hawker selling DVDs sits on a grate, smoking a cigarette. 

Taxis in a parking lot opposite the Bree Street Taxi Rank. Many taxi owners are struggling to meet their finance repayments. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

A taxi driver sanitises the hands of passengers before allowing them to board. A quick headcount to ensure he has the new maximum of 10 passengers before he closes the sliding door and jumps into the driver’s seat and then leaves the rank.

A taxi driver cleans his windscreen as he waits for passengers. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The Bree Street Taxi Rank is divided in two by Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Street (formerly Sauer Street). On the other side, which houses more taxis, street sellers stand outside waving boxes of counterfeit cigarettes. The first noticeable thing as one enters is the number of empty loading bays and the small lines of commuters. Hawkers are still present, but complain of business being quiet, despite the Level 3 status.

Passengers board a taxi to Eldorado Park. Passengers are not allowed to enter the taxi unless they are wearing a mask. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“My business is quiet. It has been like this for a long time. This lockdown just came and messed things up. We are not on Level 4, but things are still quiet,” said a hawker who was reluctant to give her name.

Passengers stand in line as they wait for a taxi. Small queues are an unusual sight at one of the busiest taxi ranks in Joburg during peak hours. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Pre-lockdown, things were different at peak hour. The place was abuzz with people. Security guards were on high alert, on the lookout for suspicious characters.

A hawker at his stall in the marketplace adjoining the taxi rank. Hawkers complain that things are still quiet despite the Level 3 lockdown status that came into effect on 1 June 2020. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The loading bays were full of taxis. Passengers had to wait in line for their turn to jump into a taxi and the rank boasted long lines of people, queueing for different destinations. Hawkers walked around shouting at the top of their voices, selling loose cigarettes, potato chips, juice and other snacks. Today, they are sombre, barely uttering anything, just looking around. Bree Street is known to be one of the busiest taxi ranks in Joburg, but it seems as if the lockdown has changed that.

A few taxis stand in wait with no commuters in sight. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Some drivers sit in their taxis while others stand around making small talk.

Elias Macie, who drives the Joburg to Soweto route, complained:

An image taken from the rooftop of the Bree Street Taxi Rank showing an empty pavement with street vendors during peak-hour traffic. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“Before the lockdown business was better. We were especially busy on month-ends. Our month-end rush would last seven or eight days into the next month. When lockdown came, everything changed. We were promised relief from the government, but we are still waiting. I thought things would change with Level 3, but we are still only permitted to carry 10 passengers.

Taxi driver Elias Macie sits in his taxi as he sanitises his hands. He has a fear of contracting the virus and is meticulous when it comes to his safety. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“I do not see the logic in that. A taxi only has one door to enter and exit. People get in and out using one door handle. Where is the social distance? It makes no difference if there are five passengers or 15. If one has the virus it will spread. It don’t make sense to me.”

Taxi driver Elias Macie urges government to fulfil its promise to provide relief. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Macie, who made R600 a day, now earns R300. The number of loads he carried has also been reduced from six to three and his load capacity has also been reduced from 15 to 10 passengers.

“Government must help us with the money they promised us. They have the money. They should allow us to increase our prices. This is not our fault and we need to survive.”

Apart from financial loss, Macie worries about contracting the virus.

“Of course I am scared. I wear my mask. I sanitise my hands, I sanitise the gear lever and the steering wheel. I also sanitise after handling the money and I do this after every trip.” DM

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