By Edayatu Lamptey
Road transport by far carries more passengers in the country than combined rail, river, foot and air — yet it is one of the areas where an abundance of regulatory gaps has led to non-standardisation and an unclear direction for strategic growth. Road transport and road-related accidents kill more people in the country than malaria, cholera and tuberculosis combined. Data from the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) provide gruesome statistics about road accidents. The NRSC reported last year that a total of 2,571 individuals were knocked down by vehicles; 13,133 road accidents were recorded in which 11,328 individuals were injured, and 1,856 lost their lives. There was a total of 20,442 vehicles involved in road accidents. The economic cost and loss associated with road accidents is estimated to be 1.6% of GDP.
Regulations in other modes of transport
Ghana like many other countries has regulatory bodies to regulate other modes of transport. For example, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) regulates air transport in the country and brings about standards and safety in line with international best practices. The Ghana Railway Authority (GRA) on the other hand regulates rail transport, with the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) regulating marine transport in the country. The presence of these regulatory bodies has not only brought about safety but also clear direction for those sectors while becoming the conduit for implementing government policies. These bodies register operators, set standards, receives complaints from both operators and consumers, and address them.
Road Transport Coordination in the Country
The current state of affairs in the road transport management and coordination system has it that the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Authority (DVLA) registers vehicles and drivers. The Police Motor Traffic Department (MTU) is mandated to enforce rules and regulations while the National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) promotes road safety education. These agencies have worked well within the limits of their mandates. The absence of an overarching body setting policies, standards and regulations has resulted in stunted growth of the sector coupled with low standards impacting on safety and loss of producer and consumer welfare.
The Bus Transport Sector in Ghana
Government’s inability to take a leading role in providing passenger transport services has resulted in the private sector filling the gaps. The role of the private sector in this regard has been remarkable, since more than 90% of road passenger traffic in the country is conveyed by the same. The absence of a well-regulated transport sector in Ghana showcases weakness and gaps in the policy arena, and these need to be addressed with the urgency they require.
It is certainly not feasible or desirable for an entity to be a player and referee at the same time. And this is what pertains in the passenger transport. Most transport unions regulate themselves with their own sets of laws.
On average most Ghanaians commute via public transport, which is provided mainly by a large number of individual operators mostly in the informal sector. In Accra alone, the modal share for informal transport is more than 70%. Private operators dominate the industry, with the Metro Mass Transit Ltd. (MMT) contributing less than 5% of the total passenger traffic.
According to research conducted by CUTS International under the Competition Reforms in Key Markets for Enhancing Social and Economic Welfare in Developing Countries (CREW Project), it has been revealed that some of the transport unions adopt unfair means to make it difficult for ‘new entrants’ and also protect self-interest while negotiating fares.
Such evidence seem to have belittled the good work that associations like the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) and Progressive Owners Transport Association (PROTOA) have done in improving the bus transport industry overall, and in ensuring that drivers adhere to the safety rules and regulations outlined by the MoT and its relevant agencies. However, the absence of a comprehensive regulatory framework for the passenger transport sector in Ghana seems to have promoted anti-competitive tendencies in the sector. Having a regulatory authority would further attract private investments and partnerships from private firms and individuals in the sector — by improving its predictability.
From the CREW Project research, it was also revealed that some unions act in unfair and illegal manner. For example, individuals acting in the jurisdiction of the unions usually assume responsibility for terminals owned by metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs), with the practice of market allocation and forceful exclusion of other non-associated bus operators from such terminals. This results in associations getting into anti-competitive practices and distorting the market.
The Way Forward
The Government of Ghana, through the Ministry of Transport, has realized the need for effective regulation in the transport sector and has proposed a Road Transport Authority (RTA) to improve services and performance in the sector. The findings of the CREW project echoes the fragmented nature of the passenger transport sector due to unrestricted entry by private bus operators.
The Ministry of Transport (MoT) with support from the European Union (EU) engaged a consulting firm to advise the ministry on relevance of the road transport authority (RTA) and to provide the framework legislation for the same. One of the key recommendations of the report was to: (a) Set up the RTA with general powers for policy formulation, quality control, standards management, complaints handling and general monitoring of road transport operations; and (b) The quality control and standards function will be the most appropriate point to start in the RTA’s roll-out plan as they are currently not being performed by any existing entity.
Regrettably, almost three years since the report was submitted to the ministry, it has not received the needed traction on the side of government. Certainly, government under the IMF bailout may be wary of setting up a new body that could be a burden on the public purse. However, there is an efficient way of going about this without it necessarily becoming a financial burden. That is, to let the authority work through the newly-created transport departments in the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs). This will lead to effective decentralisation while making assemblies the owners and implementers of the policy.