Types of Taxi in Tana
Types of Taxi in Tana: In some ways the centre of the capital Tana (short for Antananarivo) reminds me of photos I have seen of Cuba with 1950s American cars still plying the highways and byways of the country. Replace these with 1970s and 1980s French cars like the 2CV and Renault 4 and you have most examples of what it signifies to be one of the types of taxi in Tana. Its isn’t because of any communist blockade on doing business with the capitalist west as Madagascar trades openly with many countries but these cars are still working well past retirement age because of the economy. New cars are a rarity in Madagascar and it is just too expensive to buy them.
The 2CV in particular has a style all of its own as well as durability which sees them used on the roads of the capital to this day. They far outnumber most other types as a taxi in Tana and only the Renault 4 has comparable taxi numbers here.
With some time on my hands while I waited for a visa extension I stopped a taxi driver in a 2CV for a chat. The driver a pleasant heavyset man in his 50s called Bema is clearly proud of his car and after we negotiated a fee we drove to the area around the queens castle to get some snaps.
“How long have you had the car?” I asked, as Bema sat in the drivers seat smoking a cigarette happily posing for pictures.
This question proved to be a trigger and he went into detail about his beloved car, “I have had the car for eighteen years since it was imported. I don’t know when it was built but it was imported from France in 2000. It has a normal 2CV engine but they keep going and never stop. This car has been a taxi in Tana for eighteen years and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a taxi for eighteen more. It has no rust either so as long as I am careful on the roads it will keep going.”
“So, what happens when it breaks down, do you have a good mechanic?”
“Some of the repairs I can do myself but I have a mechanic who can repair things when they are broken, but I am lucky because nothing big breaks on the car. I just have to be careful,” he reiterated, about the roads in Tana.
He then lifted the bonnet and said “2CV stands for two horses,” as he pointed at the engine.
Bema is extremely proud of his taxi as are most other drivers around the country. When they are not in use drivers can be seen shining their cars inside and out to make sure they are spotless. Some of the cars may be old and have mechanical issues but this doesn’t stop their owners taking pride in their vehicles.
“The lights, indicators, horn and wipers all work,” he added boastfully, turning them off and beeping the horn as further proof.
I have seen lots of other cars in Madagascar including taxis where lights are wipers are almost an optional extra. This is clearly illegal but if you know the right person or pass the right bribe then you won’t have too many problems. We continued chatting and he seemed in no hurry to speed things up.
“Be careful with your camera,” Bema warned, nodding his head in the direction of a man in football top who strikes up a conversation with me as I take pictures.
With that I strapped it around my wrist to prevent it from being grabbed.
After I have finished taking photos we jump back in the taxi where Bema continues the conversation, “I have been a taxi driver since 1987 and have only ever used a 2CV. I can fit five or six people in here and as long as I go slowly I can take them anywhere in Tana but most of the time I have one or two passengers and go short distances so I don’t need a bigger car.”
“What about driving at night, is it dangerous?” I asked
“I haven’t driven at night for many years and will not do it again. When I first started I did night work but I don’t want to do it anymore and it’s also too dangerous to do it now,” he explained, definite in his decision to only work during the day.
As we bobbed along I admired the wooden trim on the inside and the location of the gear lever beside the steering wheel to the right of the drivers hand. French cars have sometimes had a lack of reliability levelled at them in a style over substance type criticism but sitting on the inside an old 2CV that has style written all over it and which has been used as a taxi for eighteen years blows that argument out of the water, for this model of car anyway.
After we have rattled our way back to the city centre over the cobbles I enjoyed a relaxing evening while dreaming of owning a my own 2CV.