The good news is that taxis-brousses are cheap and go everywhere. The bad news is that they are slow, uncomfortable, erratic and sometimes unsafe.
Despite the general appearance of anarchy, the taxi-brousse system is actually relatively well organised. Drivers and vehicles belong to transport companies called coopératives (cooperatives). Coopératives generally have a booth or an agent at the taxi-brousse station (called gare routière or parcage), where you can book your ticket.
Although the going can be slow, taxis-brousses stop regularly for toilet breaks, leg stretching and meals (at hotelys along the road).
There are national and regional services (called ligne nationale and ligne régionale). They can cover the same route, the difference being that on national services the taxis-brousses go from A to B without stopping and only squeeze three people to a row. On regional services, people hop on and off along the way, and there are four people per row, so tickets are cheaper. Make sure you stipulate which service you'd like when booking your ticket.
Taxis-brousses leave when full, which can take an hour or a day. If you’d like to speed up the process, buy the remaining seats.
Never buy your ticket from a tout – always get it from the cooperative booth at the taxi-brousse station, or from the driver if in doubt. In any case, get a receipt.
Japanese and German minibus taxis-brousses are generally in pretty good condition (which can’t be said of the ancient Peugeots or bâchés plying rural areas), but the one thing to watch out for is smooth tyres. General safety advice is not to travel after dark, but on longer routes it simply can’t be helped. Note, however, that taxis-brousses are required to travel in convoys at night.
The ubiquitous yellow tuk-tuks (motorised rickshaws) are starting to overcome pousse-pousse in popularity. They fit three people in the cab and generally work on a flat-fare basis (Ar500 to Ar1000). You can charter them for longer journeys (to go to the airport or the port for instance).
In rural parts of Madagascar, the charette, a wooden cart drawn by a pair of zebu cattle, is the most common form of transport. Fares are entirely negotiable.
The colourful pousse-pousse (rickshaw) is a popular way to get around in some cities. Fares vary between Ar500 and Ar2000 for a ride, depending on distance. When it’s raining and at night, prices increase. Some travellers may feel uncomfortable being towed around by someone in this fashion, but remember that this is the driver’s living, and your patronage will be most welcome to them.
Another variation of the pousse-pousse is the cyclo-pousse, in which the cab is attached to a bicycle. They're quicker than pousse-pousse, so fares tend to be slightly more expensive.