Impact of Ideas TEDx

What can shake up a morning commute? A TEDx takeover on the Maxi Taxi

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

The Maxi Taxi is Port of Spain’s answer to the subway.

In the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago, this network of mini buses shuttles commuters along set routes—a red line, a yellow line, a green line—bringing them from neighborhoods to business districts and back. Like commuters in many cities, Maxi Taxi riders generally avoid interacting at all costs. But in November, the riders on one taxi got a surprise: TEDx Talks. All of a sudden, people started talking to each other, sharing opinions on corruption, forgiveness and the future.

The organizers of TEDxPortofSpain carefully choreographed this disruption of the morning commute. They rented out this Maxi Taxi to spread ideas to their fellow city-dwellers and to let people know about their thriving TEDx community.

Keita Demming, lead organizer, says the idea came to the team while brainstorming at a restaurant. The year before, prospective attendees were asked to fill out an application, and it had created the appearance of exclusivity when, really, attendance had been granted on a first-come, first-served basis. The group wanted to correct the misperception. Bringing the TEDx experience into the community seemed like the perfect answer.

“The hardest challenge was finding a Maxi that had a TV in it,” says Demming, who started by asking a random driver if he knew anyone with a screen onboard. “Within three phone calls, I’d found a Maxi with a TV. And it was on the red line as well—the color of TEDx. So I rented it for the day.”

Riding on a Maxi Taxi usually requires paying a fare. But, since they wanted to film the moment, Demming and his fellow organizers offered commuters a free ride—signing a release form was all they had to do. And within minutes of starting the journey, the group realized that they had signed on for a real treat.

“Normally, on the Maxi, nobody is speaking to anyone. You’re in this tuna-can kind of vehicle, just trying not to fall asleep and miss your stop,” said Demming. “But that morning, it was very lively. We showed talks for the first half of the trip, and for the second half, we had conversations with people. People were like, ‘This is amazing, I wish I could start my morning like this every day.’”

A scene from TEDxPortofSpain. Photo: Flickr/TEDxPortofSpain

A scene from TEDxPortofSpain. Photo: Flickr/TEDxPortofSpain

The TEDxPortofSpain organizers spent a lot of time deciding which talks to show. They selected four from their event: Afra Raymond’s “Three myths about corruption,” a popular talk that ran on TED.com; Christopher Laird’s “History and dreams (and everything in between),” about the push for a united Caribbean; Gervase Warner’s “Do we dare to dream again?,” a reflection on forgiveness; and finally Verna St. Rose Greaves’s “Love in a shoe box,” a moving story of survival.

You can see some of the reactions to these talks in the video above. But there’s one you can’t.

“There was one guy who seemed really disengaged. He looked like a military officer and sort of had this mean face. The photographers were like, ‘We’re not taking a picture of that guy,’” says Demming. “But when we get off at the end, he turns and says, ‘This is such an amazing initiative.’ He starts talking about how he really enjoyed this talk and that talk.”

Even better for the TEDxPortofSpain organizers: several people from the Maxi Taxi became a part of their community. “The guy at the end of the video, he turned out to be a chef, and he did the catering for our last event,” says Demming. “And two people attended from this.”

It’s possible that the talk screening has continued in the months since. “The taxi driver asked us to burn DVDs for him—and we did,” Demming says. “Every Thursday, he was going to show TED Talks in his Maxi. I have no way of knowing if that ever happened, but hopefully it did.”

Watch the talks shown on the Maxi Taxi, below, and learn a bit more about Port of Spain, a city that Demming calls “the little New York of the Caribbean”: