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Opinions of Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Columnist: Agyeman, Harold

A model strategy to regulate commercial passenger vehicle industry

Following the recent spate of accidents, of which a sizeable number has involved commercial vehicles, particularly Mercedes Benz 207 vans/buses, there has been an emotional national response. Debates in Parliament and outside of it fingered the 207s for the crime and some vociferously called for its ban. In the process of the debate, a palpable trait has been the lack of evidence-based discussions. It is the hope that this would not translate into decision making. For one, the 207s may not be appropriate for carrying passengers, for another, they may be ubiquitous and as a result have a higher incidence of accident occurrence. Even inappropriate road designs cannot be ruled out. So let us comprehensively look at the problem and ascertain the best options to pursue.

Without doubt though, the high rates of road accidents have involved commercial vehicles and there is need for a better regulation over their operations. In the last couple of days, the Ministry for Transportation has sought to meet the umbrella institutions of road operators to assess the situation and evolve options. The road transport sector is critical to this country?s development in diverse areas, including for domestic tourism promotion, merchandise distribution, business and agricultural growth, etc. Thus we hope that their efforts are driven by genuine interest to public service and not an attempt to temporarily divert attention from failings. The problems of the poorly regulated taxi and other commercial passenger transport systems in Ghana are very manifest.

For the benefit of readers we reproduce below elements of an article which was written but not published following an initiative taken by the Ashanti Region to start a new embossment and numbering system for use by all taxicabs in the Ashanti Region.

We advocated that all other regions be encouraged to adopt a similar set of measures based on a common but differentiated national standard, which could be established around a Commercial Passenger Vehicle Commission hub, to regulate defined aspects of commercial transportation in Ghana. The enforcement capabilities of the GPRTUs, etc. have been woefully inadequate, fraught with inefficiencies and costly in human life.

The elements of the proposed Commission would include the following: ? A small and compact national governance structure composed of Commissioners (maximum of nine), with representation from the DVLA, MTTU, NRSC, RCC, GTB, private transport associations and other noted experts, with the Chairman of the Commission serving as its Chief Executive and being the only salaried Commissioner;

? A mandate to ensure (i) the further development and improvement of taxi and for-hire service in Ghana, (ii) the licensing and regulation of for-hire vehicle, commuter van and other disability accessible van services as it relates to the overall public transportation network of Ghana, (iii) the establishment of taxicab and bus fare rates, standards of service, standards of insurance and minimum coverage, (iv) standards for driver safety, (v) standards for equipment safety and design, (vi) and standards and criteria for the licensing of vehicles, drivers and operators engaged in such services;

? An accountability mechanism of an annual report to the appropriate Committee of Parliament, by which the functioning and performance of the Commission is evaluated.

In our proposals we anticipate that the Commission would through its mandate establish, among others:

? a license regime for all commercial passenger vehicles that certifies that they are fit to carry passengers and in the numbers so certified;

? a regulated regime whereby commercial passenger vehicles licensed to a particular region can only operate in that region, except that where it ply between two regions it can only do so between its designated stops and cannot pick up passengers on the way in between. This should put a stop to what is know as the floating vehicles. When a commercial passenger vehicle operator wants to relocate a vehicle to a new region, that vehicle would require a new license with new number plates unique to the new region where it wants to operate; and

? a commercial passenger driver operating licensing system where drivers are made to demonstrate some key knowledge requirements such as appreciation of the road network of the region, the ethics of commercial passenger service delivery, including a code of rights for passengers, an awareness of the need for cleanliness of the commercial vehicle, etc. and a clean criminal or driving record.

It is recognized that the above proposals may appear to create some overlaps with existing institutions. For instance the DVLA is currently the body responsible for licensing commercial vehicles and drivers. However, in our envisioned proposals, the licensing by the DVLA for commercial vehicle operators would continue to be done and would be preliminary and complementary to the additional licensing required from the T.L.C, which would act using already existing institutions such as the DVLA itself and District/Regional Administrations as implementing organs. Thus a potential commercial passenger driver would still require a commercial driver license. But to drive a commercial passenger vehicle in a particular region, he or she must obtain another operating license after fulfilling the criteria discussed above, among others.

The finer details of how this system can work within the prevailing context would require additional work to be done on this basic framework. But our experience suggests that we need to be looking towards that direction because there are positive benefits to be derived as is evident in other more developed systems elsewhere.

A coordinated approach over this area of national economic activity, such as the one proposed using the Commission, should enhance road safety, promote passenger welfare, facilitate tourism, and help maintain law and order. Recent events arising out of the increase in transportation fares further justify the need for a regulator.

We here outline two of the envisaged benefits.

The standards to be promoted and enforced through the institutional mechanism would enhance passenger welfare and have positive ramifications on Ghana?s tourism promotion drive. Certainly, a clean taxi with a capable driver knowledgeable of his beat, including the tourist attractions, is useful and helps leave a good experience on a traveller.

In respect of the security benefits, if the colours of commercial vehicles in a particular region are blue and white, and those of the other regions different colours, then once such a taxi crosses the regional boundaries, it immediately flags the attention of the MTTU in the trespassed region for more stringent review. It is easier to spot and stop such a vehicle for routine checks. Also, the database established on all licensed vehicles and drivers in a particular region should ensure that the use of commercial vehicles for criminal activities can be more easily traced during investigation for prosecution, and serve as deterrent against future criminal acts. Currently, it is not uncommon to, for instance, witness commercial vehicles registered in the Ashanti region plying regularly in the Greater Accra region or to see others that pick passengers along the way.

Of course the critics would say that such structural reforms are not what is required to achieve the desired results but that if we even enforce what we have that should be good enough. I partly agree. Enforcement is important. However, enforcing the wrong things can also be disastrous. Let us therefore adopt the best practices and enforce them rigorously.

As a country that eagerly seeks to modernise itself and fulfil the aspirations of its people, it is important that we not only bemoan the frustrating conditions which we confront but that we join forces, in a spirit of altruism, to overcome such surmountable challenges.

Credit for this article is shared with the Business Advisory Services Division of Halman Company Limited whose email address is

Harold Agyeman
Antoa, AR

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.