If you find yourself in West Africa looking for something that will get you from point A to B, needless to say, you won’t find anything which even slightly resembles a bus or an underground subway train that will take you to your destination. Instead, what you will find is something called the “Bush Taxi”.
Typically, it’s an old and rickety 1980's Peugeot 504 car that is used as a public transport vehicle – a service which still thrives in West African countries like Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, Nigeria, etc. It’s called a “Bush Taxi” since it’s commonly seen ripping through bushes barreling down dirt roads and village lands. In other former French colonies in Africa, where Land Rovers and Jeeps are unavailable, it is the Peugeot 504 that is used to tackle some of the most treacherous terrains in the continent.
The Peugeot 504 production lasted from 1968 till 1979 in Europe, but it continued well into the 21st century in several parts of Africa, where it was assembled using ‘knocked down kits’. A lively second spare parts trade with France still exists, which means that a broken down 504 can be brought back to life, even in the most remote of villages, within an hour or so. Seven to as many as nine people are squeezed at once, inside what nothing but a metal shell of the car which is modified and fitted with benches to accommodate as many people as possible. Luggage is usually tied to the roof (where passengers may sit as well) or dragged behind on a skateboard tied with a string. A typical trip for 800 kms will cost just Rs. 1800. Although unreliable and very uncomfortable, for the common folk, it’s the only means of travel between adjacent cities and to also transport their goods (with the occasional goat).
So, with its unchallenged ruggedness and easy to fix mechanics, the Peugeot 504 is still the people’s popular transport choice, helping it retain the title – The Bush Taxi.
The Peugeot 504 gained more fame when it featured in the famous 1981 James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only” in which it was used by Hector Gonzales’s henchmen to chase Bond and Melina, in a Citroen car.