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Opinions of Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Columnist: Georgina Asare Fiagbenu

If I were a Taxi driver...

Trotros are very reliable means of transport in Ghana and about 70 percent of Ghanaians rely on them for their daily transport requirements. It is the cheapest means of transport; it is shared, you can join anywhere, alight wherever you want and pay for the distance you covered.

Trotro drivers know every corner in the cities where they operate. If you see a trotro driver who doesn’t know his route well and other shortcuts (lungu lungu) then he probably hasn’t lived in the city for long.

At peak times from Mondays to Fridays they are normally the most wanted people and passengers queue for long hours waiting for them to show up.

It is very typical to see young men driving trotro. Quite a number of older men and middle age men also operate the trade. Some of the trotros drive intercity whilst others drive from the city to surrounding towns and villages. Trotro drivers get on the nerves of most people.

They actually enjoy a love-hate relationship with their customers. Customers love them because they are quite reliable and you can count on them to take care of your transport needs. On the other hand, customers also hate them for many reasons. They can be very rude and they are often accused of overcharging especially after a general increase in transport fares.

They also irritate other road users; they can stop anywhere, even in the middle of the road, right in front of you to allow passengers board or get off their vehicles. They can also stop whilst traffic is moving and call passengers from across the road to run and board their vehicles. Trotro drivers enjoy stiff competition in their trade so they don’t even care to hold traffic for a few minutes to fill their buses.

The constant stops and exchanges between them and police officers also show that they are very conversant with the rules of their game. They like to pay their way through rather than obey simple road regulations.

When you board a trotro, you will notice the power the drivers hold. I recall that many years ago I sat in a trotro at 37 and the only space left was in front.

However, the driver refused to allow me to sit there because he claimed he doesn’t allow females to sit in front. Yet again, on some other occasion, another driver also refused to allow females to sit directly behind him. They are lords of their vehicles and they often outwit many people, even the vehicle owners, and police officers.

A day in the life of a trotro driver or mate (trotro driver’s assistant) can never be boring. There is always an interesting incident in their vehicles. This could be a fight between the mate and a passenger, or an argument between two passengers. Another one can be an angry look from a passenger who is upset because a passenger is sleeping and puts his or her head on the shoulder.

When you sit in trotro, you don’t have to think about your problems anymore. You can sleep soundly and lay your head on someone’s shoulder. If you are not lucky he/she will shrug the shoulder and push you off or worst still the person can shrug you off and add an insult.

Sometimes you can also be entertained by someone who is chewing a gum and make all sorts of “tatata” noises with the chewing gum. If you are alighting and you are not extra careful you will have your dress ripped off. I once had my skirt torn apart whilst alighting from a trotro. What happened afterwards? I had to take a taxi home. That was the last time I boarded a trotro to work.

Trotro drivers are very important in this country because they carry thousands of people every day, if not millions, yet they still remain heavily unregulated. Usually, those in the stations are somehow regulated than those who are “stationless”.

At least, those in the stations are under local bodies such as GPRTU’s and can be sanctioned when they violate their rules. Those who are stationless are not answerable to anyone except their “masters” (vehicle owner).

I really miss the days I used to sit in trotro, especially the preaching from all sorts of people and the prayer sessions that are held in the vehicle. Trotros are also busy chemical shops.

Many people have so many different impressions about trotro drivers but what I find amazing about them is the fact that you hardly meet a trotro driver with an eye defect. How is this possible? Just look around you as you drive or walk down the streets of this country when you meet private vehicle drivers or drivers of official cars you will often see many of them in spectacles. How is it possible that you hardly ever meet a trotro driver who is either short sighted or long sighted? What is so special about these drivers that they get instantly immune from any kind of eye defect when they take up that trade?

We all know that before you acquire a license you must have an eye test. So how do they see from long distances, in the night and when the weather is cloudy? How is it possible that only a few people wear glasses in the trade? Is this not mysterious?

The only possible explanation I can think of could be that the licenses are issued without the eye checks, or the drivers have a way of bypassing the process.

This issue has to be investigated. Only God knows the causes of many of the accidents on the roads. Could it be possible that some of the drivers are short sighted and have difficulty in seeing beyond a certain point? If I were a trotro driver I will take my eye tests seriously for the lives of the passengers are very important. The GPRTU, Police authorities, and DVLA must investigate this phenomenon. It should not be ignored any longer.