Disrupting Accra’s Transportation System – A Lost Cause?

Don’t fool yourself – The main way for transportation in Ghana is currently Trotros and Taxis. Yes, Uber has made headway when it came into the market two years ago. Now Taxify is also here trying to be the alternative.

Of course, there seem to be million other ride-sharing apps like Enshika, Driva and others. But whether these companies are actually causing behaviour change in the way people use public transportation remain to be seen.

On any day, you just have to observe most of the major bus stops in the city: They are filled with people standing and waiting for a trotro to take them to their destinations, whether it be their workplace or other destinations.

Accra Trotro

The Ghana government has tried in the past to make public transportation better for citizens. One such project was a Bus Rapid Transportation system. Although it started out with a lot of buzz and fanfare, it appears to have dwindled and has instead become a “regular” bus transportation system.

BRT Buses – Image Credit: Ghanaian Times

So, at the moment, the best and cheapest alternative is the use of trotros.

Kenya has faced a similar situation with their transportation system with Matau buses but now they are currently piloting new alternatives. Little, a ride-hailing app backed by Kenya’s largest mobile operator, Safaricom and Swvl, a Cairo-headquartered bus transportation service are currently piloting bus shuttles in the city of Nairobi.

Swvl app

It would interesting to see if this would work in Kenya but if similar startups were to try and test the same model in the city of Accra, would they succeed or just fall at the wayside?

Infrastructure And Design Problems

A friend who once visited the city of Accra once commented on how “narrow” the streets were and how small the roads were.

Narrow streets and small roads are definitely a contributor to the ever growing traffic situation in the city. Shoulders of roads are used as third lanes for motorists during traffic jams and most pay no mind to breaking the law.

There doesn’t seem to have been any attention paid to factors such as the growing population of the city and citizens’ purchase of personal vehicles in the absence of a good transportation system.

Ride sharing apps may be a great alternative for some people but the majority, it might be a bit out of their budget range which makes them opt for the cheapest option (Trotros).

When Will The Ghana Transportation System Evolve?

The current transportation system in Ghana *works for now it would seem. (*People are able to get from point A to B). But there are issues of growing concern. Safety is one issue that comes up frequently. Most of the trotros don’t have any safety regulations (some have no seatbelts) and even though some are said to be “road worthy“, there are constant stories of trotros having failed break systems, and constantly breaking down in the middle of traffic.

Taxi drivers still bargain with passengers for fares when this could be resolved with the implementation of taxi meters.

Modern Taxi Meter? Will it work in Ghana?

A Bus Rapid Transportation system could have been a great alternative but a seemingly hasty launch, poor planning in regards to the construction of BRT lanes in the city have contributed to low patronage of the service.

Currently, there are Metro Mass Buses but that company also faces challenges of poor management and poor maintenance culture which frequently requires purchases of buses.

So when will Ghana’s transportation system “evolve” into something that seems more 21st century? It’s hard to say. The lack of alternatives for mass transportation will always play a key in adoption.

Although a service like Swvl looks interesting, it may suffer the same fate as other ride sharing services who are trying to break even. Uber will still make headlines and be used by people who can afford it but as far as mass transportation, it will be barely get a mention.

Better infrastructure and a modern “trotro” fleet may be better than ride sharing apps. Until then, it looks like Ghana’s transportation system will still be stuck in slow motion until radical changes are made.