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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Columnist: Alhassan Siiba

Road traffic butchery and transport disadvantage: the predicaments of two geographical settings

Adequate transport provision in all its forms and dimensions is undoubtedly one of the true ways by which all the three major forms of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental – can be attained. Evidence to support this argument is replete from around the world. However, the degree of relevance and need for improved transport infrastructure and services is greater for developing nations, such as Ghana. Unfortunately, it seems that present and past governments in most developing nations have not appreciated what transport can do in propelling their quest for economic development. Or should I just say they have consciously turned death ears to that?

In this article I present two contrasting phenomena in relation to the conditions of transport and what people go through because of the dictations of where they live – urban or rural area. I end my discussion by suggesting, perhaps, what can be described as common knowledge in terms of what can be done to reverse the growing trend of road traffic accidents and transport disadvantage in the case of Ghana and hoping that they would be taken into consideration.

The first phenomenon always leaves me asking myself questions that I believe no one else hears. It also most of the time makes me cry about the sheer negligence of people and their lack of foresight to choose to live well their God-given lives. That is the colossal cases of road accidents we continue to register on daily basis in urban Ghana in recent times. The Accra Metropolitan City alone has been experiencing road accidents leading to loss of innocent and precious lives on daily basis since the last two weeks or longer.

Experience has shown that the causes of these accidents are both structural and behavioural. Structurally, the rate of urbanisation in Ghana has made it extremely difficult to manage demand for transport and the provision of adequate transport infrastructure in ways that can ensure improved safety for drivers and pedestrians in urban areas. While they may be genuine economic and technical reasons for the inadequate provision of transport infrastructure on the one hand, there is also a poor traffic management culture on the other hand – i.e. the provision of traffic calming and control facilities – in most urban areas of Ghana. As for the partisan political mind set casts on urban transport management, it seems to be a universal enemy, so, the least talk about it the better. But there are no two ways about the reality that the consequence of the structural and managerial inefficiencies is the growing talk about road accidents and loss of human lives and properties.

Awkwardly, despite the social and the economic benefits of public transport and its role in sustainable urban development, Ghana is yet to harness the full advantages of public transport in cleaning up the mess in the transportation of the urban population. Nerveless, amidst several failures due to poor management and lack of proper commitment, the steps taken in this direction thus far are commendable. With resolved commitment towards providing public transport, it can be hoped that the headaches of traffic accidents can fade into memory sooner than later.

Due to the above issues, coupled with the need for people to get to their work places in good time, many people have resorted to driving in single passenger vehicles even if it is just about covering a walking distance. They do this mainly to overcome the challenges associated with: unreliability of the informal public transport services; to avoid careless driving; and to do away with loss of maximum travel time – albeit, travel cost is usually not the primary consideration to the urbanites. Hitherto, owning a private car was purely a function of income, but with the proliferation of ‘used’ or ‘abandoned’ cars from developed countries into the Ghanaian market and the handy works of Ghanaian informal car mechanics, it has become relatively affordable for a middle income earner to own one.

However, not only does the utter number of private cars thickens traffic congestion, the other issues that come with it go a long way to take advantage of the structural limitations of the urban transport system. In other words, most private car owners are not skilled in driving, a lot of them do not have the permission to drive either at all or at certain times, and even some of those who are skilled and are allowed to drive at all times take the advantage of the poorly managed traffic environment to over speed, drink and drive or use non-road worthy cars. While all other things count, it remains the case that those behavioural issues are the largest contributors to the prevailing road traffic accidents on the major roads of, especially Accra. The worrying thing is that, in most of the traffic accidents, it is often the pedestrians who are knocked down, injured or killed in their attempts to cross the road for one reason or the other. Again, not only because there are no footbridges, uncompleted or decrepit walkways on major roads, there is always the tendency for pedestrians to circumvent or ignore designated areas for crossing the road. As for provision for cycling in urban Ghana and other non-motorised travellers, the least said about it the better.

Here comes the other phenomenon, transport disadvantage in rural Ghana. The availability of some form of improved transport infrastructure, the chance to drive one’s own car and more unfortunately the opportunity to over speed have variously made the transport conditions in the urban areas sharply contrasting with the state of transportation in rural Ghana. In transport terms, the precise way to describe the rural people is that, they are transport disadvantaged and socially excluded in most of the cases.

Roads in clear majority of the cases are nonexistent; where roads do exist they are poorly constructed. As for transport services, it is always the case for the lucky ones to rely on friends and family members for support whenever the need to travel outside the territories of the rural areas arises. But the disadvantage nature of rural transport particularly affects school children, women and farmers than it does to anybody else. By the rhythm of nature and design, school children and farmers are facing various travel challenges even within their own territories – they belong to the group of persons who do not often get travel support from friends and family due to the frequently occurring nature of their travel needs.

For school children, the suffering occurs nearly on daily basis. For farmers, the seasonal nature of farming gives them the leverage to thank their stars for not having to go to their farms all the three hundred and sixty-five days in the year. It is unfortunate to observe that in some rural areas even the minimum means and mode of transport are unavailable. So, just as the main stream media are flooded with reports of road or traffic accidents in the urban areas, they are equally inundated with reports of how school children are precluded from going to school on regular basis for lack of footbridge or due to long school distances. The farmers on the other hand, are used to seeing their farm produce rot or underutilised for lack of accessible means to commercial centres in urban areas.

The negative consequences of the lack of adequate transport in rural areas hit the nation right in the chest – the constant reduction in food production and difficulty in achieving inclusive basic education in rural areas. The effects on the rural dwellers irrespective of their profession is also reflected in the extent to which they are left out from accessing essential services, predominantly located in urban areas.

From these two contrasting phenomena, it can be said that the government of Ghana is losing from all. In other words, we experience from one geographical area, the urban area, road carnage and destruction of properties and heighten security issues and, from the other geographical area, the rural area, there is a potential drawback in human capital development and economic productivity. It is, therefore, important that all these cases are given the needed attention if Ghana really wants to achieve high marks in the global fight against road accidents and social exclusion.

Policy makers and city managers must step up their efforts towards reconstructing the urban transport environment, especially as they relate to putting in place appropriate traffic calming and control measures and public education in the immediate term. In the medium to the long term, there is the need to provide sustainable public transport to improve travel time and reliability of public transport services for the growing number of urbanites so that we can all together achieve maximum reduction in the unintended consequences associated with private car ownership and use.

Nonetheless, we all have respective roles to play. So, the people of Ghana, especially the urbanites must resolve to take their destiny into their hands by trying as much as they can to avoid any actions or inactions on their part that can lead to the loss of their lives and property and the psychological and mental costs associated with that. In terms of the rural areas, government needs to turn its infrastructure lenses towards the provision of adequate, relevant and sustainable basic transport services and infrastructure. We can achieve this by revisiting our transport strategies to ensure that, at least, our interventions take into consideration the real transport needs of the rural people. Ghanaians should always remember that the quest to achieve a developed Ghana must be devoid of the exclusion of the disadvantaged people from all corners of the country.