Grand taxis are an efficient, handy, and cost-effective way to travel in Morocco, a favorite North African destination. Here is what visitors need to know.
Getting around is one of the primary concerns for tourists and visitors in a new country. In Morocco, there are many travel options: planes, trains, buses (both swank and basic), plus rental cars and tour buses, but many travelers are only aware of those that appear on the internet. One of the best and easiest ways to traverse the country, from Tangier to Tan-Tan, is by using grand taxis. These vehicles go almost anywhere, and the adventurous globetrotter can make use of them by knowing a few simple rules.
First, you need to distinguish between the two types of taxis in Morocco: the petit taxi and the grand taxi. The first, petit taxis, are used strictly within city limits. Grand taxis travel between cities.
Description and Capacity
Grand taxis are large Mercedes Benzes of any era, but, since most of these models are not made in any existing factory, the truth is the majority are over 30 years of age. Their use as taxis can be a shock for those who think of Mercedes as a luxury car. Europeans and Moroccans know them better as “almost indestructible”. These cars are kept together with skill, duct tape and wire and they travel tens of thousands of kilometers each year. The window handles may be missing or tears and splits in the leather seats may be covered with a blanket. Don’t look too closely. These are “working cars” and being pretty is not a priority. Often, before setting off, the hood is popped to add fluids of one kind or another.
The driver and/or the owner earn money based on the number of passengers in the car for each trip and the number of trips the car can make on any given day. Generally, the grand taxi will not leave the taxi hub without six passengers. That is six full sized passengers in the car, plus the driver. Two passengers sit in the single passenger seat next to the driver and four sit in the back seat. Can you say sardines? But, don’t worry, there is an answer, even for this.
Grand taxis are designated by destination. If you want to go to Marrakesh from Fez, you will need to find the grand taxi hub for Marrakesh. The best way to find this location is to ask the petit taxi driver to take you to “taxiat Marrakesh”, or “Rabat”, or “Agadir”. In a large city, there may be several different hubs. The taxi drivers will know them all. Many times, grand taxis collect near the bus depots or the CTM depots (Morocco’s luxury bus line).
Finding a Seat
Each grand taxi hub has a person in charge of filling the taxis with passengers. You will be able to spot this man by looking the one with a roll of bills, someone often surrounded by seat-seekers and drivers alike. Go up to him and ask for what you want. I always ask for “jôj (two) place kadahm min chauffeur”, or “two places next to the driver”. This gives you the passenger seat in the front and a much more comfortable ride. If you are traveling with someone else, ask for “arba3 place wurrah”, “four places in the back.” That way, you and your traveling companion will have the entire back seat, though in both cases you will pay double the going rate .
Try to have exact change. Grand taxi rides tend to be very inexpensive. A trip from Fez to Ifrane, the home of Al Akhawayn University and winter sports, is around 35 miles. The cost is 25 MAD, or $3. In many locations, this money is not given to the driver. Instead, passengers hand it to the supervisor at the gathering place when he comes by. If you don’t have correct change, he will return with change. If you have asked for “jôj place” (two places) , simply give the supervisor twice the standard fare. There may be cities in which the money is given to the driver, but this has not been my experience.
If you opt for a single seat you may be situated in either front or the back. If you have a backpack, put it in the trunk, keeping your valuables in your pockets. Every cubic inch of room in the front or back seat will matter.
Be prepared for staggered seating. One person will lean forward, the next will lean back. There is no way four sets of shoulders will fit, so they must alternate and then take turns so that everyone has a chance to lean back against the seat for awhile. If you are in the front seat, next to the driver and with another passenger squeezed in next to you, be aware that the driver will be shifting frequently. If you are a lady, this might begin to feel like roadway groping. Women should avoid this place in the car. Ask to switch. When the trip has been smooth, of reasonable speed, and the driver has taken few ridiculous risks, I often tip him as I exit. Five MAD is more than enough.
In Morocco, a dialect of Arabic called derija is spoken. This dialect draws on French and Spanish as sources, hence the word “place” for place. If you aren’t comfortable with using derija, try French.