Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Taxi / Public Transport in Yaoundé, Cameroon

At first, utilizing the public transport in Yaoundé (or any other Central African country) can be daunting – in Yaoundé at least, the non-African system of minibuses is non-existent, to be replaced by “shared taxis” or “combis.” These taxis make up half of the traffic of Yaoundé, and consist of up to (6) passengers (excluding the driver), each going to different destinations along a variably-set route.

To begin, there are three ways to take the taxis. The default way is by “combi” – where a trip costs 200CFA around town (the distances vary, but seem to be around 3km). In this setup, you stand on the side of the street, and wait for a taxi to approach (it may or may not honk to indicate it is free). Then, through the window you shout your destination, proposed cost, and number of passengers. The taxi driver will then honk or motion to indicate it is acceptable, or drive away otherwise. You ultimately are paying for one seat in the taxi. When you reach your destination, you can stop the cab by saying “C’est bon” and pay on the way out.

Then, the format is: “(location) (proposed cost) (passenger number)”, for example “Hôtel des Villes” or “Casino Supermarché, trois sont,” or “L’ambassade de Chine, trois sont, deux place.” For 200CFA taxi rides and for just one person, don’t include the cost or “place” designation per the first example. Also, for more than one seat it is assumed the fare quoted is per person. The place is generally an accepted landmark. Negotiation doesn’t occur, except for drivers asking “Combien?” occasionally to default 200CFA requests; however, the majority of taxi owners will not try to rip you off. That said, not having change is an endemic problem in taxis; even if you have a 500CFA coin for a 200CFA taxi, before entering it is imperative to say “J’ai __ franc s’il vous plait” to imply you need change at the end of the ride.

The system is a free market – you will have to increase your proposed offer above 200CFA (to 300CFA+) if:
  • You’re traveling further than 3km
  • You’re traveling during weekday rush hours or late-late night
  • You’ve gone through 10+ taxis and all won’t take you, or many ask “Combien?”
  • You’re going to a significantly off-the-main-road location
  • You only have 1 person
  • You speak absolutely no French or look completely oblivious
The above list is additive. The easiest way is just to go through taxis and increase your offer as you go. Also, keep in mind if you’re going to a new destination empty taxis are easiest to secure but may need a higher proposal to “set the route” to your destination.

Finally, a tricky aspect is the informal routing of taxis. You have to stand on the side of the road where the most common route is, but even then there are ideal places to stand to go to certain sections of town, and ideal “interchanges” to switch from taxi to taxi. This knowledge is something that takes weeks in the city to pick up (seeing the same routes being utilized on your journeys into and out of the city). An additional gem of knowledge is the 100CFA taxi, reserved for short (500m-1km) rides; foreigners rarely get this rate, but you can try by proposing “cent franc” at the flag-down.

Other ways to get a taxi include a “depot”, where you rent out the whole car for a fixed rate (1000-1500CFA for regular trips, 2000CFA for longer ones such as Bastos (North) -Southern Bus Terminals). You can also hire a taxi by the hour at 3000CFA, which can be useful for running errands. Although the shared taxi system is a challenge at first, it becomes a blessing in disguise for getting you to the exact place at a wonderfully affordable cost!

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