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Opinions of Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

From muscular human carriers to Marcopolo buses

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By George Sydney Abugri

Yet another landmark chapter in the history of the nation’s premier state-owned transport company, the Intercity STC Company, was written last Friday when President John Mahama commissioned 50 brand-new 44-seater and 50-seater Scania Marcopolo buses for the company. The fleet will carry passengers on domestic and international routes.

The buses which are designed to meet the cardinal requirements of modern road travel, namely safety, comfort and convenience, are equipped with free WiFi, refrigerator, washroom, security cameras, television, mobile phone charging points on every seat, coffee machines and computerised tracking equipment.

More than 100 years ago, the organization that is today known as the Intercity STC Company had in the place of the fleet of luxury coaches it oper¬ates today, an army of muscular Gold Coast {Ghanaian} natives to carry its goods and passengers across the country bare foot. You may find it difficult to believe but that is the truth!

Rather than tar the roads, the British colonial administration at one time experiment¬ed with tarring the feet of our ancestors who carried passengers and goods for then STC. The idea was to minimize wear and tear and gen¬erally protect the feet!

During the early stages of British colonial rule, the main mode of transport involved the use of human labour to transport stores for the colonial administration by the head load. In the absence of motor vehicles, our ancestors carried and expatriate government officials around in hammocks.

Further up north where expatriate offi¬cials were sometimes carried astride the shoulders of natives, the story is told of a hungry man with a loose bowel who carried a district commissioner on a long journey and fouled his shorts during the trip. The stench of excreta literally threw the expatriate to the ground, where upon he picked himself up cursing loud, and all but strangled the poor fellow.

In September of 1901 the colonial British Administration, recognizing the need for a state transport organization, set up the Gov¬ernment Transport Department (GTD) to supply labour and human carriers for transporting supplies for both the colonial administration and for the mines.

We learn from the archives that the Gov¬ernment Transport Department in its very first year of operations recruited 4,800 load car¬riers and labourers, handled a total of 16,000 loads and made a hand¬some profit of £1,295. We also gather that a load carrier took eight days walking bare foot, to carry a load of 26 kilogrammes from Cape Coast to Kumasi at a cost of £1 6s. 6d

It was not long before the Government Transport Department realized that the profits were rolling in at consid¬erable human cost. "With constant walking for a 12-month period averaging over 400 miles a month; a large number of carriers became incapacitated from sore feet", according to archival records.

The department hit upon a solution: Why tar the roads when you can tar the soles of the feet of the human carriers? The results were said to have been favourable. The tar filled the cracks on the feet of our ances¬tors, served as an anti¬septic and provided pro¬tection from cracks if thickly applied.

Following tremen¬dous increases in the activities of the Govern¬ment Transport Depart¬ment in the 1950s and 1960s the government provided a grant of 800,000 Ghana pounds for the development and expansion of the depart¬ment. Goods depots and workshops were con¬structed in most region¬al capitals. The three-¬storey headquarters of the company· at Kaneshie in Accra was constructed at a cost of 205,000 Ghana pounds and commissioned in August, 1964.

The State Transport Corporation was incor¬porated by Legislative Instrument in March 1965 and commenced operation in January, 1966.

The GTD was trans¬ferred to the Public Works Department in 1922. Motor vehicles were imported to replace human carriers. Apart from the head office in Accra, located then at the present Limb Fitting Centre, the department opened depots and work¬shops in Accra, Takora¬di, Kumasi and Tamale and sub-depots at Ho, Wa, Navrongo, Bol¬gatanga and Yeji.

Today, some of the largest concentrations of tourists, business people and public officials waiting to travel on any day in Ghana are usually found at STC terminals and zonal depots across the country.

Whilst many former state enterprises have been run at colossal loses, made very little or no profit or literally operated as drainage pipes to state coffers and finally folded up, the State Transport Compa¬ny managed to stay afloat for many years.

The STC has just taken delivery of a new fleet of buses to help give it a new lease of life when it is 115years old. Curious observers are no doubt waiting to see how the largest national transport organization bequeathed to Ghana by the colonial British Administration will cope with the challenging demands of a new era of road vastly improved road travel.

Increased investment in Ghana and growth in the country’s tourism industry will produce large volumes of passengers and goods in coming years.
The STC has to its advantage, a track record of maxi¬mum road safety due to continuing programmes of training and retrain¬ing for staff. There is also the advantage of more than a century of rela¬tionships with clients and communities across the country.

Though there are local and foreign busi¬ness people who fly out of Accra to Kumasi, Takoradi, Tamale and other regional capitals daily on small planes operated by local air¬lines, many still prefer travelling by STC buses in order to see the countryside and Ghanaian towns and cities along STC routes. They are always rewarded with a view to the changing landscape.

North bound travelers get a memorable view of the changes from coastal Savannah through the country’s forest and ecological transi¬tional zones, to the sparse woods and scattered shrubs of the northern Savannah.

With its new fleet, the STC should be able to raise the market share of the organization significantly and attain increased prof¬itability from a previous status of loss-making and diminished profits in the next few years.

The new fleet of buses should also equip the STC to recapture a sizeable share of the tourist market in the next few years.

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