Melaku Kebede, 47, has been in the taxi business for
almost half of his life; that is long enough a time
to understand the intricacies of the major
public transportation means in Addis Abeba. The 21
years he has been a taxi driver has enabled him to
witness the ups and downs, the good and bad, as well
as the growth and challenges in the taxi business.
He currently operates regularly on the Tana Gebeya
to Bole Medhanialem route in a Toyota Hilux pick up
turned taxi vehicle, commonly known as Wuyiyit,
making 60 Br to 70 Br a day. Melaku expects that the
regular daily income he seems to enjoy now is likely
to be altered once the newly introduced taxi zoning
system is in place, binding the transport service
providers in the city to operate in specified zones.
The three major service providers in a city with a
growing demand for the service, the 12-seater white
and blue minibus taxis; the midi-buses that seat 22
to 27 people, the latest entrants to the business
which are getting increasingly popular; and the
limited number of big Anbessa City Buses (which
carry 30 people seated and 70 standing) are hardly
able to cope with the public's demand for
Information from the Federal Transport Authority's
Addis Abeba City Branch Office indicates that the
336 city buses that are now operating handle the
vast majority of about 1.2 million commuters.
The midi-buses, which are 100 in number, service
700,000 commuters, while the second largest
commuters, 1.1 million, are catered for by the
estimated 20,000 blue and white taxis brimming all
over the city. Private vehicles account for five per
cent. The remaining 60.5pc make their trips on foot.
Devised as one of the short-term solutions to the
transportation woes in the city by Kuma Demeksa's
administration, the zoning system considers bringing
back the Derg time mode of operations for
taxis - assigning them to operate in designated
zones and having a plate indicating their routes
posted on top - with some revision and modification.
Addis Abeba will then be divided into five zones;
Asko, Tor-Hailoch, Saris, Bole and Megenagna. The
responsible government agency, the Federal Transport
Authority Addis Abeba Transport Branch Office, has
formulated a model regulation for associations to be
established under these zones. Each zone will have a
specific number of routes within its territory and
taxis under each zone are expected to operate only
in the routes within the zones they are registered.
The highest number of routes, 42, will be in Asko
Zone, followed by 38 in Megenagna and 31 in both
Bole and Saris; the least number, 24, will be in
"I believe it is not a good system because it
doesn't allow us to compete freely," Melaku told
Fortune. "It is contrary to the free market
system the government advocates."
That is not the only reason for him to be
pessimistic about the system; he also believes it is
similar to the system that the Derg used from
early 1980s to late 1980s.
Melaku is not the only one who is familiar with both
the Derg time and the current system, which
is about to be replaced by an almost replica of the
former; there are others in the business who are as
pessimistic about the zoning system.
Mekonnen Yifefu, 40, and a father of three, is
employed as a taxi driver, earning 300 Br a month
and an additional 10 Br allowance daily.
Just as he shares Melaku's experience in working
under the zoning system in the previous regime,
Mekonnen shares his pessimism.
"During the zoning system, people were unable to use
a contract taxi since no taxi was allowed to go out
of its respective zone," he said. "Taxi owners could
not use their own cars for personal and emergency
Unlike Melaku though, he thinks this would allow
taxis to have equal business opportunities because
most commuters choose to take mini-buses rather than
Wuyiyits, (discussion) as they have been
nick-named after the way the seats of this group of
the taxis are arranged.
Even though there were no advantages of zoning as it
was back in the 1980s, Mekonnen now supposes that if
the system is properly in place, it would reduce the
time commuters spend waiting for taxis.
"I believe it is a good mechanism to solve the
problem I face every now and then," Henok Abebe, a
contractor who works at the Jemo condominium
construction site who uses the taxis everyday to and
from his workplace, off Guinea Bissau Street, told
Fortune. "I usually run late for work."
His daily route starts from Mesualekia around the
Meskel Square, where he lives, and covers about six
kilometres to make it to work. Taking three taxis
for each trip is a hectic experience: the crowd of
people jostling to make it into the fewer number of
taxis - especially during rush hours - is
challenging for him.
"There are many people waiting for taxis everywhere
along my way," he said.
For this huge number of commuters, the
reintroduction of zoning is welcome as they hope it
will solve what they complain the most about.
According to the Urban Transportation Research
Project Report the City Transport Branch Office
conducted four years ago, residents of the
metropolis make 3.4 million trips every day. Of the
total, students' trips account for 30.2pc, with
16.7pc being done by workforces provided with
transportation services by their organizations,
while 4.9pc are business trips.
The taxis are often accused of abusing the huge
number of people in need of their service; they
determine the distance and, thus, cut the trips into
two or three in order to get more money. Most taxi
drivers gain much more extra income when they cut
trips, especially during rush hours. During peak
hours, in the mornings (from seven to nine) and
evenings (from five to nine), there are many
commuters who would rather be subjected to
exploitation and pay more than the tariff than be
delayed from getting to wherever they are going.
Working with the zoning system, as a result, which
is hoped to stop cutting trips as it would enforce
designated routes for each taxi for a specific fare,
may bring relief to commuters, and most probably,
reduce the daily incomes of the people in the
business of taxi services. The two individuals
responsible for each taxi, the driver and a
weyala (an assistant) - the latter collects
fares and calls out the taxi's destination - are
both dependent on the income the taxi makes. What is
supposed to solve the transport woes in the city
has, therefore, signalled the coming of hard times
for the two main individuals in charge of each
Transportation problems have been prevalent
throughout the city; watching people fight to get
into a taxi has long become commonplace.
In some instances, the Transport Branch Office has
assigned its own people to control, watch over and
sometimes assign taxis to go on certain routes where
there is great demand.
For example, there are two individuals from the
office assigned to the taxi station around Mexico
Square, right in front of the former Tea and Coffee
Authority head office, which currently houses the
office of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange
Authority, to regulate the flow of taxis and
The two people. holding a small sign in their hands,
watch the flow of the taxis and sometimes order them
to go where there are lot of people, especially to
Arat Kilo, Bole and Megenagna.
The back-to-the-old times system was supposed to
have been implemented as of early December 2008 and
then deferred to February 2009. However, the Addis
Abeba Transport Branch Office only completed the
registration of the taxis to be assigned to the five
zones at the end of April 2009.
The taxi owners have listed down three of the five
zones; one near the area they live, the second is
the zone they want to work in and the third is the
Branch Office's preference based on demands.
Registered taxis are classified under their
registration date, owner's or driver's name, plate
number, the year the car was manufactured and the
number of years that it has provided service for.
"This would help us identify each of the taxis and
would ease our job while assigning the number of
taxis to go to each zone," Tadesse Bogale, Legal
Department team leader at the Office, told
Fortune. "We have now finalized the registration
process and soon we will call a general meeting with
the service providers."
The primary objective of this meeting is to clarify
and discuss with the taxi owners and drivers what
the system is like, how it works and the advantages
of implementing the system as a solution to the
problems in the urban public transport sector.
Some taxi drivers share the view that the system
will solve the problem commuters have been facing. A
minibus driver along the Megnagna - Tor-Hayloch
route believes that the system will rather be to the
disadvantage of commuters than it is to the service
providers; nevertheless, he has been registered into
"If I, for instance, get a passenger from Megenagna
who wants to go Tor-Hayloch or Abenet, and if I
extend my route, then the customer can use my taxi
to go the distance without any discomfort or
setback," the driver said.
Despite the popular reference to the system as a
re-emergence of the Derg era practice,
officials at the transport office say that their
version of zoning is different.
"This is a new system," Tadesse argues. "It is way
different than the previous one."
For instance, in the Derg version of the
system, the government had been the one that
controlled and assigned taxis to their respective
zones. Now, that task will be left up to the
associations the taxi owners would set up in their
respective zones, Tadesse explained.
"Our office would play only regulatory roles and
facilitate the process," he told Fortune.
"Therefore, the system is not contrary to free
The city's taxi transport service, which is believed
to have begun in the time of Emperor Hailesellasie I
with small cars called Sechento, has gone through
various stages and systems before it reached the
current level. Though there are views that it is now
going back to a similar system of how it used to
operate about 20 years ago under an entirely
different economic policy, experts suggest it is
possible to use the system while still being in free
"Bringing back zoning is not contrary to free market
because in free market, there are some elements that
would still be regulated by the government," Zewdu
Belete, an economics lecturer at the Finance and
Development Economics Department of Addis Abeba
University, told Fortune.
Free market is the theoretical term that economists
use to describe a market which is free from
government intervention. Ideally, it is expected to
be an economy with no regulation, no subsidization,
no single monetary system and no governmental
monopolies. In a free market, property rights are
voluntarily exchanged at a price arranged solely by
the mutual consent of sellers and buyers.
Nonetheless, the zoning system may perhaps
discourage potential investors in a specific zone,
according to Zewdu.
"An individual gets into a business and runs it in
order to maximize profit," he said. "Therefore, if
that person is restricted to work in a specified
area, then others who want to invest in that area
are being discouraged."
Beyond regulating the transport system, zoning is
believed to positively impact the employment status
of the drivers of the taxis and their assistants, as
the owners of the taxis have to get them registered,
The two primary actors in the service rendering
would also benefit from the training the branch
office plans to give them in order to enhance their
customer handling and business skills.
The system would also allow the owners to have
better control of where their drivers operate and
how many times the taxi plied the assigned route per
day. This will enable them to calculate the daily
income. However, the drivers see this as a potential
threat on their income.
But for people like Melaku, who drives his own old
wuyiyit, the system would not have any effect
in terms of controlling how their business is
handled every single day.