Publication Source :

Authorities in Ghana frequently blame drivers for the country’s road transport problems and poor safety record. For instance, in parliament recently, the country’s Roads and Highways Minister cited driver indiscipline as the cause of accidents. His predecessor made similar claims, as have presidential committees, parliamentarians; former presidents and the National Roads Safety Authority.

These claims often end up forming the basis of public policy. For instance, based on a presidential committee report claiming that: “Indiscipline is the main contributory factor to the increasing incidents of road traffic crashes” in Ghana, the government approved a colossal 1 billion Ghana Cedis ($175 million) to tackle driving behaviour through road surveillance, sensitisation and public education.

The Ghanaian authorities have good cause to be concerned. Today, road trauma is among the top 10 causes of deaths in Ghana. One report suggests that about $230 million is spent annually on emergency and trauma care from motor accidents alone.

And it’s true that driver factors such as recklessness, unruliness, indiscretion, inattentiveness and poor judgement are important for understanding road transport problems. But there is more to it. A deeper understanding of Ghanaian drivers’ roles in road transport miseries lies in the policy choices that shaped the country’s transport sector into its present form.

My study of measures to deal with road accidents in Ghana suggests that blaming drivers deflects attention from inappropriate policies. Identifying the wrong cause of the problem means that it can’t be fixed comprehensively.

Road transport problems in Ghana

Successive governments in Ghana have failed to invest meaningfully in rail and public bus transport and other infrastructure (such as bicycle lanes). One study shows, for instance, that rail has only a total of 1,300 km and only 46% of the lines were operational in 2007. The government has recently made revamping Ghana’s railway network a priority though.

The lack of other means of transport in the country has forced the majority of Ghanaians to rely on imported cars, either as owners or as passengers. One recent study suggests that the vehicle/population ratio in Ghana has been growing steadily and was about 70 vehicles per 1,000 population in 2015.

The problem is that these cars are usually old and, therefore, prone to malfunctioning and crashes.

This is even more so for commercial passenger vehicles, which are also often operated recklessly – a problem which is heavily linked to unemployment and lack of labor protections in the commercial passenger transport sector.

The point here is that the rates of youth unemployment (12%) and underemployment (50%) are dangerously high in Ghana. There are also limited labor rights protections in the commercial passenger transport sector.

These two problems create room for car owners to exploit the many young people who seek employment in the commercial passenger transport sector as drivers. The result is the drivers sign onto exploitative contracts with vehicle owners, which they fulfil by being hyper-competitive, aggressive and reckless on the roads.

The retention of the imperial town planning laws that separate home from work is another problem. This land-use pattern and system of town planning is problematic as it compels more travelling and traffic to the cities where businesses, jobs, services and trade are concentrated. The result is heavy traffic congestion – “go slow”, as it’s known – which, in places like Accra, could hold drivers and passengers on the road for as long as 3-4 hours to travel a few kilometres.

By delaying drivers for extended periods, gridlocks cause fatigue and thus undermine safety. Commercial passenger drivers held up in traffic for long periods are likely to drive more aggressively or dangerously to make up for lost time or potential revenue. This is all the more likely given that car owners often impose hefty daily returns on them.

A recent study has confirmed that traffic congestion contributes to over speeding in Ghana. One driver confirmed this as follows:

Driving from Accra to Kumasi should take about 4 hours but because of the traffic you can be on the road for 6 hours. … You can be in traffic alone for three hours and when you finally move through you want to speed to cover the time you spent in the traffic especially when the road is “good”.

This may partly explain the occurrence of more road injuries and deaths on the “best” of Ghana’s roads – the highways.

As the evidence considered shows, Ghanaian authorities’ insistence on bad driver attitudes as the main cause of road transport problems in the country hides more than it reveals. It fails to take into adequate account the broader context of the problems.

Towards safe and sustainable road transport in Ghana

Scapegoating drivers allows authorities to turn public and media outrage against drivers and avoid responsibility for fixing these problems with better approaches.

Offending drivers are subject to hefty fines and prison sentences and sometimes personal harm. But as I have shown elsewhere, such interventions can do only so much.

The current scientific foundation of road safety research and practice shows that creative thinking and policy re-imagining beyond the traditional focus on road users, vehicles and and the road environment could be more effective to make roads safer.

In Ghana, such thinking could include:

• Providing well-organised public transport.

• Addressing youth unemployment and labor exploitation (especially driver exploitation) in the commercial passenger transport sector.

• Re-imagining town planning to make work and shopping as close to homes as possible.

• Investing in non-motorised transport systems (like bicycle lanes and walkways) to reduce reliance on cars.

These interventions and others, at a wider societal level, would do more to improve road transport experience than the present public policy of declaring “wars” on so-called undisciplined drivers.

Publication Source:

Public Transport stakeholders want the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) under General Mohamed Badi to double the parking fee of private vehicles rather than ban matatus in Nairobi CBD

Matatu Welfare Association (MWA) chairperson Dickson Mbugua argued that private vehicles were the cause of congestion in the city. He lamented that the cars carried fewer passengers as compared to matatus. 

“Increasing the parking fees from Ksh 200 to Ksh 400 will thus discourage private motorists from parking or driving their vehicles to CBD,” Mbugua proposed. 

The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) took over the collection of revenue from City Hall after former governor Mike Sonko signed the deed of transfer and shared power with the national government. KRA collects parking fees on behalf of NMS with motorists paying through unified payment short code (USSD) *647#.

Matatus caught up ina traffic snarl-up at Tom Mboya street near Khoja/Old Mutual terminus

In November 2020, Nairobi County through the Finance Bill 2020 also proposed hiking parking fees to 400. However, their plan targeted all motorists. 

Mbugua further said that the other solution to the matatu ban was expediting the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system that will have entry and exit points for buses after matatus are banned and parking fee for private vehicles is raised.

The Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (NaMATA), however, said that its plans entailed using BRT buses to ferry commuters to and from CBD to Nairobi estates.

NaMATA released a schedule for the buses that will ply five routes within Nairobi County. These are Ndovu Line, Simba Line, Chui Line, Kifaru Line and Nyati Line. Ndovu Line starts at Kangemi to Imara Daima. Simba line runs from Bomas of Kenya through Blue Sky/TMall (Umoja) to Nairobi CBD then passes through Thika Road to Ruiru. 

Chui Line starts at Njiru (Kasarani) to Showground (Kibera) and passes through Nairobi CBD. Kifaru Line serves commuters from Mamam Lucy, passes through Donholm, CBD, TMall, Bomas, Karen, to Kikuyu. Nyati Line links Ridgeways (Kiambu Road), Balozi (Allsops) to Imara Daima estate. 

Mbugua’s proposal to have the BRT system fast-tracked also faces a huge challenge as other matatu organisations opposed the plan. SACCOs wanted to be allowed to purchase and manage BRT buses than having them controlled by the government. 

Another hindrance is the plan by NMS to offer its alternative buses, or use taxis and boda bodas to ferry customers within CBD. 

The MWA chairperson further warned that the matatu termini being built by NMS were small and would not accommodate enough matatus. He said that this will cripple the transport sector as drivers will be forced to park on roads which will escalate traffic snarls outside CBD. 

BRT buses pictured in Nairobi.
BRT buses pictured in Nairobi.

“We witnessed such confusion during the trial with Muthurwa bus stage where matatu drivers who did not find parking space simply ended journeys in the middle of Jogoo Road that became inaccessible before rules were relaxed,” he cautioned. 

NMS postponed the matatu relocation plan to a further date after the project was compounded by delays in the construction of termini and negotiation challenges. The termini include Green Park terminus at Railways Club, Fig Tree Terminus at Ngara, Bunyala and Workshop Road, Muthurwa Terminus and a proposed terminus at Globe Cinema Roundabout. 

It already unveiled a mobile app meant to restrict the flow of matatus in the CBD. The app will only allow a handful of matatus into the CBD in a bid to reduce congestion in various pickup points.