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Opinions of Monday, 8 August 2011

Columnist: Ansah, Albert Oppong

Can Ghana run good Metro Mass Transport System?

Albert Oppong Ansah of GNA asks as he examines Tamale MMT Bus operations

Tamale, Aug. 7, GNA – Undoubtedly, the Metro Mass Transit (MMT) limited since its establishment in 2002, has provided good transport service to majority of Ghanaians both at the rural and urban centres.

When MMT buses begun plying on our roads in Ghana especially in the major cities, it was not uncommon to hear Ghanaians express good comments on its safety, convenience and comfort.

Unfortunately today, the safety, comfort and efficient service of the MMT buses, which many hailed on account that it was going to revive the bus transport system in Ghana, seemed to be eroding or have eroded entirely given the recent avalanche of complaints about poor service, poor management and frequent breakdowns of the buses.

The public outcry concerning the operations of MMT in Ghanaian mass media seemed to have fallen on deaf ears of the authorities of the MMT Limited and the challenges and problems keep compounding.

A look at the operations of the MMT in the north of Ghana appears to give more credence to the revelations and issues.

Just visit Northern Region and join MMT bus and immediately you will begin to realise how poorly the national bus transport system had become. There seems to be little or no supervision at all of their operations, hence leaving commuters at a big disadvantage any time they patronise the buses.

Most commuters, who spoke with me during my investigations in Tamale, said the company had lost the trust and confidence of the public because MMT buses’ safety and comfort were things of the past.

A major but common problem identified at Tamale was the issue of double ticketing – It was found out that usually between ten to fifteen MMT tickets were always reserved for some special category of people, who might have some relationships or dealings with officials at the Tamale Terminal.

Unfortunately, if you cannot speak the local dialect and can’t find a way of getting an insider friend, then you should be prepared to go through the ordeal of waiting for long hours before you can get ticket to join a MMT bus.

Travellers, who do not speak the local dialect or have some connection with officials at the terminals, had to accept to pay fares above the normal amount to middlemen in order to book a seat in the bus.

If the ticket is sold at GH¢10.00, one was required to add between GH¢1.00 and GH¢2.00 to be able to get the “special” ticket. A common phenomenon identified which a regular traveller confirmed was that usually ticket numbers one to 13 belongs to the so called “well connected” passengers, whilst tickets numbers 14 and above are sold to the “ordinary” passenger.

Another disturbing development was that, after securing a ticket, a passenger would have to wait for hours before a scheduled bus comes to load and when you enter you would find out that someone had occupied your seat with the same ticket number.

On one of my journeys, a serious misunderstanding ensued between a lady and a gentleman who both had the same seat numbers. The lady, the first to occupy the seat was later asked by the gentleman to vacate the seat because he owned the seat number. The verbal insults that this matter generated alone into delayed the journey for about 30 minutes.

Four of the tickets I was able secured from passengers bear the same seat numbers. The first two set of tickets had seat number 44 with the codes 01276464 and 01276451. The other two also bear seat number 48 with the codes 01276455 and 01276468.

On the 6th of June, 2011 under the watch of MMT staff a Tamale-Bole bound bus with registration number AS 1246Z, 13 extra passengers got on board without tickets. The bus, which was to carry about 63 passengers, had on board a total of about 75, including lots of luggage and other belongings parked inside the passenger walk ways in the bus.

Though there were conductors in the bus to inspect tickets that never happened throughout the journey. Every MMT bus driver was seen to be guilty of overloading. The bus detailed to leave for Bole at 1400 hours delayed till 1730 before it took off from Tamale. Official of MMT at Temale refused to give any reason for the delay and passengers who tried to find out were verbally abused.

When the bus got to Damango in the West Gonja at exactly 2030 hours a

handful of passengers alighted and more people were asked to join till

some of the passengers started shouting to complain of overcrowding and suffocation.

At the Damango stop, a bushy hair dark man wearing a reflector jacket with inscription “Inspector 082” supposed to check the tickets of the passengers came around but never inspected the tickets. Besides, a number of people got on board although the bus was overloaded under his watch.

When I asked one of the passengers, who joined, whether they were given tickets, he replied no, saying “Are you a stranger or is it your first time of joining metro mass”.

This is just one of the many ordeal market women and other travellers go through when travelling with MMT from the regional capital to other

districts.

Later when the Regional Manager of MMT was contacted on the issue he did not denied the revelations but promised to intensify monitoring to deal with corrupt officials.

Other problems identified along routes from the Tamale Terminal to Yendi, Salaga, Bawku, Bunkpurugu–Yunyoo, Wa, Gambaga, Bolgatanga, Bole, Wa and many other towns were poor customer service and lack of maintenance of the buses.

Many of the buses that the company use in the Tamale are over-aged vehicles without the full complement of spare tyres and tools to carry out simple maintenance during journey.

The conductors lack basic customer care skills. It is very common to find conductors and ticket agent shouting at people when trying to ask questions as to when a schedule vehicle would be arriving.

Prosper Abdulai, 26, a regular user of the MMT buses in Tamale, who often journeys to Tachiman, Salaga, Suyani, Damango and other districts in the region, sharing his experiences said he sometimes paid GH¢5.00 instead of GH¢3.00 from Tamale to Damango.

“Although I go to the station early with the idea of getting a ticket because the bus that ply on the route is only one. Usually when you get to the station they will say the tickets are finished but someone will come to tell you that he has a ticket which goes for GH¢5.00...”

Complaining about the rude attitude of conductors, Madam Nayima Abubakari, a trader, said verbal abuse of passengers was a common thing when one sat in the MMT bus.

“One spends a lot of hours when travelling with Metro Mass buses. Thus the bus virtually stops at every town to pick passengers and for others to alight”, she said.

GNA