Share Taxis Around The World: The How, Why & Design

26 April 2011 at 11:00 7 comments

By Adam Cohn KF14, Rwanda

Rwanda: That Bieber Fever

Rwanda: That Bieber Fever

Poda-Poda, Tro-Tro, Marshrutka, Jitney, Bemo, Bush Taxi. It seems that they have different, funny names in each locale, but they all refer to the same concept: the shared taxi. A share taxi is a vehicle which travels around a fixed route and either departs when it’s totally full, or allows customers to hop on and off wherever they want. In Rwanda, they are also a zeitgeist of what’s hip now; an opportunity to unabashedly tell the world that you have the “Bieber Fever” or that you are a die-hard Eminem fan.

Share taxis here in Rwanda range from larger, roomier Coaster buses to the loud and attention-seeking minibuses. The minibuses are a much more entertaining way to go. Similar to Timor’s bemos which Stephanie mentioned in her article, the minibuses in Rwanda are where the action is. Each one is navigated by a driver, while a “bus conductor” manages the money and calls out to potential passengers to ensure that the interior is always packed. In Addis Ababa Ethiopia, I loved listening to the conductors heading toward Bolé road shouting “bolebolebolebole” as the taxis drove by.

Rwanda Minibus: Drake

Rwanda Minibus: Drake

I met the owner of a minibus in Kigali which was decorated in luminescent green and purple paint and paid homage to Canadian Degrassi Jr. High actor-turned-rapper, Drake. As I marveled at the paint job, he explained to me that minibus painting is a relatively new phenomenon here in Rwanda. Apparently minibuses in neighboring Congo have been custom painted for some time, and until a few years ago a minibus owner would have to get their ride painted there. Artists have recently started cropping up in Kigali, and now each minibus tries to outdo the next in terms of decoration.

As Stephanie learned in Timor, the minibus owner in Kigali believes that having a hip paint job will attract more customers. He confirmed that particularly schoolchildren will wait until a minibus comes along which reflects their taste in music or sports. For 25,000 Rwandan Francs ($40), the owner can get a fresh, custom paint job, so when Bieber gets replaced by the next teen idol, Kigali’s minibuses will reflect that trend. While the cost of a new minibus would likely exceed the maximum Kiva loan size, I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a minibus owner requesting a loan to paint a Rebecca Black minibus next year.

Share Taxis Around The World
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Aside from being a personal statement, another benefit of traveling by minibuses is that it is a somewhat “green” way to go. Back in Seattle, I am guilty of commuting daily as a single occupant in my personal car. I use that same car to head into the city and drive in circles looking for a parking spot. Kiva Fellow Caree Edson reports that the marshrutkas in Armenia can hold around ten passengers comfortably, and commonly carry double that number with many passengers standing. I’d estimate that the typical Kigali minibus is stuffed with 20 people at rush hour. A minibus is always available and is always a carpool.

The crowded seating inside a minibus has a few benefits. If the passengers can communicate over the decoration-corresponding music, a great amount of interpersonal interaction takes place. Politics are debated with strangers, potential boyfriends and girlfriends are identified, and friendships are made; all impossibilities when traveling alone in my Jetta back home.

Mikrolet: East Timor

Mikrolet: East Timor

Cameroon Bush Taxi

Cameroon Bush Taxi

Minibuses are so crowded due to the economics of necessity. They are found where affordable transportation is needed and are packed to the limits of local liability to keep costs down. I’m told that gas prices have skyrocketed back home; perhaps I should be considering launching a share taxi service in Seattle when I return!

While I consider whether a coffee-celebrating or carbon-reduction-boasting paint job would attract more riders in Seattle, I invite you to take a little minibus trip around the world with these photos provided by Kiva Fellows.

Adam Cohn is a Kiva Fellow, working with Vision Finance Company and Urwego Opportunity Bank in Kigali, Rwanda.

Entry filed under: Africa, Armenia, Benin, blogsherpa, Ghana, Indonesia, KF14 (Kiva Fellows 14th Class), Rwanda, Sierra Leone. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Economies of scaling down 25 Years Working Where the Need is Greatest

7 Comments

  • 1. norbert  |  21 January 2012 at 19:46

    thanks a lot for the kigali taxi post, makes me wanna cry, coz that’s my culture, i use to own one of those and drove it around nyamirambo, actually its not new about doing up these taxis it was a culture to us the yong drivers and it started around 96, imagine driving one of those at 19? it was too much fun which a lot of us did it for. makes me miss old days.. thanks

    • 2. adamcohnkivafellow  |  22 January 2012 at 23:47

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my article, Norbert! I definitely believe that it would be a lot of fun to be a taxi driver as a teen in Kigali! Nyamirambo was my favorite area when I lived in Kigali, and the colorful share taxis were a big part of that. Thanks for your comment!

  • 3. Nice Hip Hop Loops photos | Mister Phat Beats  |  6 December 2011 at 16:45

    […] or other entertainment. For an article I wrote on minibuses and share taxis around the world, click here. In case you’re like me, and have no idea who Drake is, he is a Canadian entertainer who […]

  • […] cling for life to a motorcycle driver, chill in a 4×4…all those bumpy, dusty and crowded hours spent planning our next blog post to share the fun and exciting ways we get around our new […]

  • […] Share Taxis Around The World: The How, Why & Design Country: Rwanda / Fellow: Adam Cohn (KF14) Adam’s comprehensive gallery of share taxis includes “That Bieber Fever” and “King of Hip Pop Officer Ricky The Boss” plus tons of fantastic paint jobs. […]

  • 6. Jenn Beard  |  27 April 2011 at 13:43

    Hey Adam,
    I enjoyed your colorful post. If I could upload a photo here I would share a picture of a bush bus I took in Madagascar last year. It only had one door in the back and the windows were too small to fit through. Each bench had a fifth seat that blocked off each row. Needless to say, I sat in the front of the bus and then realized that I am kind of claustrophobic – especially when the whole thing almost tipped over!

    ~Jenn

    • 7. Adam Cohn  |  28 April 2011 at 06:41

      Wow, that sounds like a unique ride! If you email the photo to me, I’d be happy to add it to the slideshow!
      My address is my full name at gmail.


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