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Who speaks for the voiceless?

BY: Kwabena Agyei-Boahene
The way seats are fitted in some mini buses and sprinter vans is not the best
The way seats are fitted in some mini buses and sprinter vans is not the best

In June last year, the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) and the Ghana Road Transport Coordinating Council (GRTCC) announced a 10 per cent increase in transport fares.

The increment was to compensate for the rise in fuel prices at the time.

Traditionally, any time fuel prices are increased substantially in Ghana, transport fares are adjusted to match the increment.

Hurriedly, transport union executives bring out a price list and ask their members and the general public to cooperate for the successful implementation of new tariffs they release.

Unfortunately, there are no proper checks to determine whether the fares published by the GPRTU are correct.

The fares are always released entirely in their own interest.

Vital public utility

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In Ghana, transportation is supposed to be a vital public utility which provides an affordable mobility for the low income segment of the population.

However, this is not the case. It is rather expensive and troubling because it has been left in private hands.

Unfortunately, the government operates only a small fraction of it while a chunk has been left in the hands of private transport operators.

For this reason, the burden of funding public transportation is always shifted on passengers.

There are hardly any low rates for passengers to assess while there are no subsidies for social groups such as students, the elderly and people with disability.

For years, the GPRTU has been able to manipulate the system to their benefit and passengers are exploited whenever fares are increased.

For instance, during the recent increment, a 10 percentage increase in a fare which cost GH¢1.00 resulted in GH¢1.20, while the same percentage increase of a journey which cost GH¢3.00 became GH¢3.50. 

The GPRTU has consistently given several excuses regarding their pricing strategy, but what is beyond dispute is that they do not charge passengers the correct fares.

Factors influencing fares

We do not dispute the fact that before fixing their fares the GPRTU may have considered things such as the mode of transportation, the nature of goods or persons, the nature of the road as well as the origin and destination of the journeys.

These notwithstanding, the GPRTU cannot escape blame for its appalling way of charging transport fares in this country.

This system where the GPRTU is always given the freedom to determine its own price must cease henceforth.

The best bet for passengers is to fight for an independent regulator who will fix passenger fares for the transport industry.

This will help ensure fair play for both passengers and transport operators and give passengers the opportunity to enjoy the value of their money.

Another problem that needs serious attention is the seating arrangements in some of the vehicles that are used to convey passengers.

The way seats are fitted in some mini buses and sprinter vans is very annoying. Most often, passengers have to get off vehicles because of the unbearable pain they suffer.

Most of these transport operators have unlawfully increased the seating capacity of their vehicles to the detriment of passengers.

Unfortunately, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority which is supposed to monitor the standards of these vehicles to ensure the safety and well-being of passengers has completely turned a blind eye to this rot.

Defending the poor majority

There is clearly an enormous problem for safety and accountability here.

This is why the government should as a matter of urgency initiate policies that will help defend the poor majority who have no option than to use GPRTU vehicles.

It should remember that there is a serious risk for being silent when a larger group of people in a society is being cheated or treated unfairly.

The vulnerable and poor people in this country continue to suffer while policymakers and people in authority who should have helped streamline things sit back unconcerned.

It is the obligation of the government to evaluate fuel increment and its consequential price increases from the point of view of the poor and vulnerable in society.

Fixing the right transport fares means providing justice for the poor by allowing them to secure their important and deserved rights as citizens.

The injustices passengers have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of transport operators must not be allowed to remain permanent because they lack moral foundations.

What the government must know is that the call to justice is an obligation and not a choice and there is also no neutrality in matters of justice.

The government must, therefore, do everything within its power to defend the poor voiceless citizens who cannot demonstrate against transport operators or refuse to patronise their vehicles.

It is time high profile people, religious leaders and all those who matter in society acted as voices for the voiceless.

It is the duty of such people to speak against this form of oppression to ensure that people who cannot afford to have their own means of transport are protected.