By Phyliss Lankai Lamptey
Public transportation is a top priority subject for many developed and developing countries across the globe. This is evident in how successive governments of various countries invest into their transport systems with a key aspect being the construction of roads.
Be reminded that, in reference to the transportation system, I seek to bracket both the ‘mode of transport’ and the ‘means of transport.’ This globally shared concern is not quite different in our own country, Ghana, as we hear reports occasionally of investments pumped into the purchase of buses and trains as well as construction of roads.
These steps taken by governments, although laudable, have been unsatisfactory as issues of lack of facilitating structures and the ‘typical’ lack of maintenance culture arise shortly after the huge investments.
A typical example is when the erstwhile NDC government, in 2016, went ahead to procure and brand the $61,642,000 worth of Aayalolo buses without thinking to sufficiently provide demarcated bus lanes, apart from the patchy one on the Accra-Achimota corridor, for the vehicles. That was necessary to ensure smooth operation of the system, not to talk of embarking on a massive campaign to educate the public on the relevance of this new transport system.
Hazards of trotro
To be honest, when news about the new buses broke, it sounded like music in the ears of several Ghanaians, as people thought the coming of the buses would bring a gradual end to the woes of patrons of “trotro”.
In case you’re wondering what a trotro is, it is a local terminology used for privately owned commercial buses, which serve as a means of transport for about 70 per cent of Ghanaians. For the average Ghanaian, trotro tends to be the most affordable and reliable means of transport.
Despite the huge patronage trotros receive, it is worrisome that most of these vehicles are in deplorable conditions, and yet no one seems to be concerned.
It is no wonder that some creative people have put their experiences in trotros together into what they have called “trotro diaries” on social media where they share funny and awkward moment.
I have wondered why matters around trotros and the safety of patrons receive very little attention. Is it because we have not come to the full realisation of the hazards these deplorable vehicles pose.
One common hazard posed by these rickety vehicles is respiratory diseases resulting from dark poisonous fumes which emanate from them due to weak engines.
Interestingly, it is about the only hazard that has been highlighted over the years, but there are also exposed metals in these vehicles which constantly either tear/hook clothes or bags of patrons while they board and alight from these cars. These metals can even atrociously pierce, cut or scratch the bodies of patrons.
The fact of the affordability of trotros should not mean that any piece of metal with wheels must be allowed to operate as one, and be carrying people from one place to the other.
Apart from the aforementioned hazards, these trotros that ply our roads lack very basic safety features. Some of these features include seatbelts and first aid boxes.
Every car worthy of human use must have a seatbelt.
This legislative instrument was passed in 2012, and by December 2015, all trotro owners were expected to fit their vehicles with seat belts. Fast track to five years down the lane, we still have trotros plying our roads without seatbelts and I ask myself what happened to the intense campaign and enforcement strategies? It is actually rare to see the police make arrests because drivers or passengers have failed to use their seatbelts.
For many, the seatbelt comes off as one irritating polyester woven strap they would rather not wear for varied reasons, but as irrelevant as it may seem, the seat belt is a life-saver and many accident survivors will testify to this.
For this reason, the mindset that seatbelts are required only when one is sitting in the front seat of a vehicle must be disabused.
From the provision of the law above, it is within reasonable construction to say that a car without a seatbelt is not road worthy. But have we not seen many of our cars with road worthy stickers or certificates but without seatbelts? Meanwhile, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) claims to be working and doing well.
First aid kits
The issue of lack of first aid kits in these vehicles or even the lack of knowledge on how to administer anything from the kit is disturbing. The reason people are required to have first aid kits is very simple – that in cases of minor injuries sustained while aboard a vehicle, one can receive initial treatment before going to the hospital.
However, people do not have a full appreciation of the benefits of having a first aid kit in a car and more especially in a commercial vehicle transporting many people on a daily basis.
In case you didn’t know what a basic first aid kit should comprise, here you go: plasters in a variety of different sizes and shapes, gauze dressings, bandages, safety pins, disposable sterile gloves, scissors, alcohol-free cleansing wipes, thermometer (preferably digital), cream or spray to relieve insect bites and stings, painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen and cough medicine just to mention a few. How many trotro patrons understand the mechanics or dynamics of using and reading a thermometer?
Now, the question we should ask ourselves is who regulates the ‘trotro’ transport system?
We live in a country where people buy vans originally designed for delivery services, import them to Ghana, contract some pretty good welders to transform the vehicle into a bus with seats, register the cars and before you know it, you have a new commercial bus on the road. So I ask, do we blame ‘government’ for the lack of the existence of a regulatory body for these vehicles, or the welder who is trying to make money and accepts this job only to put other lives at risk later. What happened to calls by the Motor Traffic and Transport Department of the Police Service last year for the establishment of a regulatory body for these “moving coffins”?
Whereas these commercial drivers have unions, which protect and fight for their interests, passengers of their vehicles do not seem to have any identifiable person or body to speak for them. Someone must really rise up and cure the sickly nature of our transport system and, unfortunately, that would only happen when patrons begin to fiercely protest.
We need to construct better roads with properly demarcated bus lanes which can accommodate the Aayalolo buses that we have blown millions of cedis acquiring, yet find only a handful operating. Government should fix the existing railway lines and put in place effective payment structures so the monies generated can be used for maintenance and construction of more railway lines.
With all these systems properly working, coupled with the refurbishment of the Metro Mass Transit buses, we should be able to clear all these road ‘unworthy’ commercial vehicles off our roads.
I know people will argue that the unemployment of the trotro drivers and mates would increase the country’s dependency ratio and social vices, but my counter suggestion is that all these drivers and conductors should be trained and employed to operate the government-administered buses.
And before someone begins to tout these ideas as campaign promises and make the masses feel that the realisation of this task is a favour to the Ghanaian, may I remind them that the average Ghanaian at the mercy of these deplorable ‘trotros’ is a taxpayer and thus entitled to these privileges.
The DVLA and the National Road Safety Authority must rise to the challenge. They must be resourced to enable them to discharge their duties which will help maintain some sanity on our roads in terms of ensuring the right vehicles are on the roads.
Whilst we wait for this ‘miracle’ to fall on the country, can someone please give the ‘trotro’ business a facelift for God and country?