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 loads of money into their transport systems with a key aspect being the construction of roads.
Be ye mindful 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 purchasing of buses and trains as well as the 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 huge investments into public transport enhancement.
A typical example is when the erstwhile 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 in order 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.
To be honest, when news about the new buses broke, it sounded like music in the ears of several Ghanaians (myself inclusive) 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% of Ghanaians. For the average Ghanaian with a daily minimum wage of GHC10.65p, trotro tends to be the most affordable and reliable means of transport. It is therefore very worrisome that most of these vehicles are in deplorable conditions and yet no one seems to be concerned. I have wondered why that is the case and the only conclusion, I draw is that, perhaps, people have not come to the full realization of the hazards these deplorable vehicles pose and more specifically health-wise.
The oblivion about these health hazards coupled with a recent personal awakening is what has inspired this piece. One common health 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 how about we look at exposed metals in these vehicles which constantly either tear/hook clothes or bags of patrons while they board and alight from these cars or how these metals atrociously pierce/cut or scratch the bodies of patrons. My concern is with the daily ‘intercourse’ that ensues between the bodies of one or more patrons and these exposed metals.
After such incidents which mostly lead to bleeding, what you will mostly notice is victims’ cleaning the blood off their skin with a handkerchief, tissue or water and they move on to the next agenda for the day. But, have you ever stopped to think about how many bloodstains could have been left on that same metal which either cut or scratched your body? And of the several drops of bloodstains do you have any idea which of them may be infected with HIV? I guess the answer to these questions will be ‘no.’ Though this may appear like remote, it is very possible.
It really doesn’t hurt to walk into a hospital and request a tetanus shot which will cost you about GHS10.00 at most just to guard against infections after such incidents. And if you didn’t know, the tetanus infection can come with seizures and fluctuating blood pressure.
This shot is highly necessary if your last shot was taken over 10 years ago (i.e the life span of the vaccine). It’s the least favour you could do for yourself as there is also the likelihood of contracting the deadly virus, HIV. The highlighting of HIV/AIDS as a Sexually Transmitted Infection has seriously downplayed awareness on the other modes by which people can contract this deadly virus.
Getting cut, scratched or pierced by a sharp object stained with an infected blood can actually give one HIV/AIDS. If people had this orientation at the fore of their thoughts, they would rush to the hospitals to protect their immune systems and/or check their status. This is how deadly the ‘trotro’ can be.
Moving away from what ‘trotro’ patrons should do to protect themselves, 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 who protect and fight for their interest, passengers of their vehicles have no one 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. I find it sad, that our leaders in this country choose to take tangible action on issues only after pressure is mounted on them.
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 a handful operating. The 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 (Kufuor buses), we should be able to clear all these roads ‘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, 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 realization 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.
Whilst we wait for this ‘miracle’ to fall on the country, can someone please give the ‘trotro’ business a facelift for God and country?
The author, Phyliss Naa Lankai Lamptey, is a broadcast journalist with Citi FM/Citi TV.