Engagement between the government and the Informal Public Transport industry
It is rare to see a trouble-free relationship between the IPT sector and the government. In nature, informal transport developed in reaction to a lack of action from the government’s side, or an inefficient or insufficient institutional public transport service. Supporting or recognizing the informal sector as an essential player might therefore be viewed as an admission of failure by public authorities. However, in the context of rapid urban growth and urgent need to develop public transport services, more and more governments are seeking to engage with the IPT sector to find solutions or to integrate them to a higher-capacity system.
Channels for engagement between public authorities and the IPT sector appear to have been shaped by two main needs. The first relates to the ongoing management and adjustment of the regulatory framework, and in particular, the process of fare-setting (as referred to in preceding sections). A second form of engagement has been triggered by major schemes and projects that have important implications for the IPT sector, and where international donor agencies are also typically involved. The most notable cluster of such projects have involved proposals to introduce Bus Rapid Transit in cities on the continent, which has been achieved in South Africa, Dar-es-Saleem and Lagos.
In these cases, engagement between the IPT sector, public authorities and development actors have commonly sought to address four major issues and outcomes:
the improvement of physical assets (e.g. vehicle fleets or provision or upgrade of infrastructure),
the restructuring of informal transport businesses into companies or cooperatives,
the professional development (or “capacity building”) of drivers, business owners, civil servants
the introduction of information and communication technologies (ICT), often through mobile phones.
The largest such endeavour has been in South Africa, where informal operators were engaged to be the operators of the new bus services. Achieving this shift certainly required complex exchanges, and there remains a lack of comprehensive and clear evaluations of the ‘successes of such schemes from the perspectives of both the public authority and IPT sector. A smaller cluster of major projects – where informal transport businesses lay at the core – have been fleet upgrading programmes, such as those in Cape Town and Dakar.
While such engagement in the context of projects is well-intended, it is important to question the extent to which the parameters of these schemes (e.g. size and number of buses, routes, conditions for IPT operators) were set through involvement with the IPT sector, or were defended through consultation with the sector once key decisions were already made. In other words, to what extent are the projects ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ initiatives.
Comparison of situations and perspectives from the TRANSITIONS cities
In Accra, the relationship between unions and the public authorities is structured around two main areas of cooperation:
Periodic negotiation of transportation fares - following variations in fuel prices
Acquisition of rolling stock – the Ministry of Transport has historically assisted GPRTU in the purchase of newer vehicles, by acting as intermediary or guarantor on large transactions (the scale of this scheme needs to be researched further).
In terms of projects to reintroduce large bus systems, original plans to implement a BRT system in Accra were not successful, although the Aayalolo Bus Service (ABS) was eventually introduced on the Amasaman to Central Business District Corridor in 2016. This project does present lessons to other cities where major schemes are proposed. When the scheme was initiated, three major IPT unions were invited to form transport companies to be able to operate the bus services, but several decisions made the process ineffective: (i) these companies represented only the executives of the unions, and neither the crew nor the owners were shareholders, (ii) no mechanism was put in place to reduce the number of trotros operating along the bus corridor – creating competition, (iii) while the bus companies were supposed to purchase the vehicles they were going to operate, the Government of Ghana went ahead and bought the buses, without pre-defining a retrocession mechanism to the operators. This created a situation where the role of Greater Accra Passenger Transport Executive (GAPTE) was forced to change from regulatory authority to operator, and finally, in the absence of a sound business model, revenues were not able to cover operating expenses (fuel, salaries), which affected the quality of service. The feasibility of a BRT scheme for Kumasi, that would make use of buses purchased for the Aayalolo services, is currently being assessed.
Cape Town is known for the successful implementation of the first phase of a BRT system and its innovative approach to the integration of informal transport, which was reflected in the Cape Town Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan (CITP). Informal operators were invited to form new companies to run new services (including BRT), following a three-step approach: (i) rationalize the transport network, (ii) optimize operations, (iii) renew the fleet. In 2017, several minibus-taxi associations were invited to take part in a pilot program which looked at improving the business model and creating new transport companies, which ultimately could be contracted by the city.
The introduction of scheduled services in association with rationalised service routes (from 3 to 5 routes) and vehicle fleets (from 78 to 32 vehicles) contributed to improve services significantly, reduce the fuel consumption by 45%, and reduce the number of working hours for the drivers. However, the relationship between the minibus-taxi industry and the government remains instable and tense, with significant mistrust, poor coordination and violent competition among operators.
In Freetown, the relationship between the informal sector and the government has in the past been minimal, and restricted largely to fare setting. It is understood that the channels for communication are now opening.
Between 2013 and 2016, Maputo’s government took the initiative to create cooperatives from the existing associations, providing the incentive that the IPT operators would receive brand new buses delivered by the government. This ‘1000 Buses Plan’, involved the provision of 385 buses and 15 mixed vehicles to Chapas IPT operators that were willing to reform as cooperatives. The unions Asoctra and Atromap now operate these new buses, but this experience has not been without problems. It is understood that the initiative created a strong tension in the ASOCTRA association, which resulted in the departure of more than two-thirds of its members. Meanwhile the Atrimu association is not involved, but has strongly expressed its desire to be integrated into this kind of programme.
Main findings and messages
Engagement with the IPT sector appears to be based primarily on regulatory matters, or major projects with largely fixed parameters. Examples of ‘bottom up’ initiatives that involve the IPT sector in the planning process for transport improvements are more limited or absent.
IPT operators provide an essential service to the population and have a knowledge of passenger demand and operating constraints that is precious and that should be taken into account in any transport network restructuring or mass transit project.
Schalekamp, H., 2015. Paratransit operators’ participation in public transport reform in Cape Town: a qualitative investigation of their business aspirations and attitudes to reform. Ph.D. thesis, University of Cape Town.
Van Schalwyk, D., 2011. A troubled journey: The South African government and the Taxi Recapitalisation Policy, 1998-2008 (No. 1). Ph.D. Thesis, University of the Free State
29. Abekah-Nkrumanh, G., Opoku Asuming, P. & Telli, H. 2019. The effects of the introduction of a bud rapid transit system on commuter choices in Ghana - https://www.theigc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Abekah-Nkrumah-et-al-2019-Policy-Brief.pdf