Dakar is known for its brightly colored Car Rapides, one of the more informal ways of transportation around the city. These cars resemble the shells of old vans, stripped down to just the metal outside with benches inside. There are no windows and often the seats are ripped and the rusty metal is exposed. The outsides of the cars are painted with many colors and they stick out on the dusty streets. They follow the same routes as the buses, but are slightly cheaper and come more frequently. Depending on the time of day and the direction they are headed they can be crammed fill, with men hanging out the back door. Other times, when you’re lucky, you can sit down and enjoy the ride, although you are usually a little squished.
Similar to the Car Rapides are the larger Ndiaga-Ndiayes, which resemble small buses. They too are usually missing their windows and the seats are often broken. In order to fit as many people as possible into the vehicle, the middle row has folding seats. This can make it difficult to exit as there is not aisle to walk down and everyone must stand up and move to let you pass. Like the Car Rapides, Ndiaga-Ndiayes are cheaper, costing around 100 cfa (roughly 20 cents) per ride and also follow the bus routes. Before boarding, I always check with the apprenti, the boy in charge of collecting the money, to make sure I’m heading in the right direction. Several times, the apprentis have tried to charge me double, recognizing my foreignness and hoping that I won’t argue or know the difference. They snap their fingers at me and hold out their hand asking for 200 cfa. I smile and say I won’t pay any more, before putting my headphones in and settling in for the ride.
If you are feeling a little bougie, there are taxis everywhere in Dakar and they are constantly honking at you, hoping you’ll signal them for a ride. Before getting in a taxi, it’s important to negotiate the price and make sure they know where to take you. I usually start the bartering with the traditional Wolof greeting, letting the driver know that I know what’s up and I’m familiar with the city. After stating my destination, the price negotiations begin. The driver usually starts high, at least double what I’m willing to pay. I start low, usually with an unreasonably small amount. It goes back and forth, each of us trying our best to get a good price. “Il y a beaucoup des taxis,” (There are lots of taxis) I often say gesturing around, hinting that I could easily find another. “Non, trois mille c’est un bon prix,” (No, three thousand is a good price) the taxi driver will retort. Over the course of the semester, I’ve learned never to pay more than two thousand cfa (roughly $4) for a taxi, unless I’m feeling truly desperate or its late at night. I’ve also come to enjoy bartering with the drivers, dancing around the price, hoping to come out on top. I’ve had times where I’ll talk with five drivers before finding one for the right price and finally climbing inside to go home. And when you do get the price you want, it feels like a victory and is something to celebrate as you sit back and enjoy the peaceful and non-squished ride.
The public transport in Dakar definitely takes some getting used to and it’s always good to have some idea about what the right price should be before heading out. It’s also a great way to experience the city, learning to hail down Car Rapides or squeeze through the aisles of the Ndiaga-Ndiayes or barter with the taxi drivers. I’ve come to enjoy riding around the city, standing up for myself when I am overcharged and making friends while waiting at the bus stops. It’s different from any public transportation I’ve experienced in the US and other countries, but it seems suit Dakar perfectly.