Opinion: Public transport, a sector left on its own?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Transport is a very dynamic sector of the economy of a country, as it provides the means of enabling the movements of people, goods and services all over a country and beyond. It is through this sector that international exchanges are possible between this country and the rest of the World.

Transport is provided through various means and so we have road transport, sea, air, and rail transport sectors among others, these being the most popular and the most utilized in the World.

There are mainly two types of transport schemes or sectors providing services to people in any country: public and private: public transport is a transport scheme set up and operated by a Government and catering for the needs of its people, and private people or companies also operate transport schemes and companies also catering for the same people, or special groups of people; one can cite Tour operators, equipment hirers and vehicle rental companies. 

In this write up, we will focus on road transport in the Gambia.

In the Gambia, transport is a Department under the Ministry of Works, Construction and Infrastructure: this includes road, air and sea transport sectors. However, the observation is that road transport in particular is in a state of anarchy, as it seems that people in this sector are just left to do whatever they feel like doing.

This can be illustrated by the way taxi and van drivers behave in the traffic and on our roads, the lack of any garages or car parks of good standards, the total lack of any formal training for such drivers and apprentices or mates, the conditions of some of the roads, to name just a few.

Given the growing number of particularly road accidents, most of which involve taxis, vans, buses and trucks, there is every reason to raise concern over the situation in this sector, as casualties are usually many. The reasons are many and we will list the following:

-           Reckless driving on most of our roads, even the narrowest, and most derelict ones, by drivers most of whom have not been properly trained but secured their driving licenses through the back door, and who do not have any sense of manners and demeanour, usually very arrogant and impolite, using abusive language: these are the people driving most of the vans, carrying a higher number of passengers and putting their lives at risk all the time. Many of these people are also non-Gambians.

-           The lack of any standardized means of controlling the conditions of these vehicles: these vehicles are not subjected to any form of regulations to ensure that they undergo regular servicing and maintenance, but are just allowed to keep running, until they are completely broken down. Then they are summarily fixed and put back on the road. One can safely say that at least over half of all the vehicles offering services to travellers are not roadworthy.

-Corruption: many a time, we witness taxis or vans being stopped and controlled by traffic officers, but most of the time, the Driver gets down and goes to see the Officer and after a few minutes of discussion, comes back with his document and continues his journey. Only on very rare occasions do we witness a Driver being asked to drop his passengers and being taken to the Mobile Traffic Office.

-Reckless driving and unnecessary race and scramble for passengers, in order to maximize on revenue, as most of these drivers, aside from revenue they have to pay the vehicle owner, also make sure they collect a healthy amount for themselves.

-           The lack of any car parks worthy of the name and in the required standards: just take Banjul and the Kanifing Municipal Council, and check if you will find anything you can call a car park: there was one within the Serrekunda market, but it has since been invaded by the market vendors and is now housing all sorts of stalls and shops.

-           Very young and irresponsible boys being allowed to secure a driving license and being entrusted with the steering wheel of a vehicle, carrying so many lives and putting them at risk. These ones are usually very arrogant and impolite and argue and quarrel with passengers, use abusive language and subject passengers to a lot of discomfort.

-The lack of any modern control gears placed on our main roads and highways, to control and record any form of traffic offence: there use to be an officer around the Banjul Central Prisons area, holding a portable device and checking the speed of all vehicles plying the highway, but that has been stopped a very long time ago.

 -          The state and condition of many of our roads can also be a contributing factor, as, if any driver plies a bad road in a reckless manner, this can lead to an accident. There is no denying that a lot of efforts have been made to fix some of our main roads, but a lot still needs to be done in this area.

-           There is also the fact that all the structures necessary to operate and control this sector seem to be lacking or inadequate: you talk about the oversight and management by the parent Ministry, the car park management teams, the Municipalities, all seem not to be operational, and one feels that there is anarchy all over this sector.

We will stop it here least this becomes a book.

Now the solutions can easily be derived from this list of issues and problems rooted inside this sector, so let us just list the most urgent ones:

-           The urgent need to create a fully fledged Ministry of Transport cannot be overemphasized, as it is long overdue: the current situation with this sector being under the armpit of the Ministry of Works is not appropriate to address all the problems in this sector, and we believe that a fully fledged Ministry is key: road transport alone can overwhelmingly keep busy a Ministry, let alone all the other sectors in transport.   

-           In this time of modern technology, we still wonder why cameras, radars and other devices are not utilized on our roads, and beyond, any other areas needing surveillance and security, to catch and apprehend any offenders and serve as a deterrent to such people.

-           The need for a scrap yard can also not be overemphasized, as it would enable the clearing of all derelict and scrap vehicles from this country, and drastically reducing the number of accidents, and well as reduce pollution. It will also enable the creation of many jobs and the regulation of the importation of second hand and scrap goods into the country.

-           Most importantly, those operating all the means of transportation ferrying high numbers of people across and beyond the country should be properly trained and groomed, carefully selected and constantly monitored, to ensure the safety and security of passengers, and even themselves. The only company having good standards is the UTSC, former GPTC.

-           There is an urgent need to increase the number of bus services and ensure a wider coverage of the entire country: reliable bus services like the UTSC, with proper schedules and services up till 12 midnight, would reduce the number of private vehicles and reduce traffic jams and pollution: during the times of the former GPTC, people did not need to secure their own vehicles because there was a reliable bus service they could use. The fare was also cheaper with the buses and this made it possible to regulate the prices and avoid price hiking. 

-           There is also an urgent need to drastically reduce the number of non-Gambian Drivers in this sector, as this can be a National threat: has anybody not been seeing and experiencing the shortage of vehicles mainly during religious and other feasts? This is because all such people usually travel back to their home countries to spend such programs there, and the number of vehicles available is drastically reduced and commuters suffer.

-           One way of minimizing this problem is to consider providing retired uniform personnel with means of operating public transport through the operation of taxis, vans, buses of better standards: such people are many in the country and most of the time, they are idle or dormant, and this could give them a new opportunity to become active again, and also secure a means of generating income. Such people already have the discipline and safe driving skills to provide a better and safer transport service to all Gambians.

 

-The legal age for allocating a driving license to anybody should be revised, and pegged at 25 years, because this is a reasonable age when such people would have begun to have responsibilities, and a sense of responsibility, they would have been married and more aware of life. Currently, one can see very young, school going children driving on our roads, particularly during festive periods, and this is very dangerous.

This list is not exhaustive and we shall stop it here, but we remain readily available to further discuss this or any other issues of National interest, as they are of very serious concern to us.   

As we have said earlier in this write up, transport, and most importantly public transport, is a very sensitive and useful scheme in any country, and it is of crucial importance to ensure that this sector is given due attention.

Abdou Rahman Jobe

Latri Kunda German

3/3/2018