top of page

Informal Public Transport regulation & enforcement

Although the term ‘informal transport’ is in common use, these forms of transport are often subject to several forms of regulation, including highly consequential practices such as fare setting. Understanding the extent to which key regulations such as route licences and vehicle standards are evenly and adequately enforced is important, as failure to do so is a significant contributor to problems of congestion and safety.



In most SSA cities, informal transport operations are subject to differing degrees of both self-regulation, and regulation by public authorities. Additionally, there are examples of so-called hybridity regulation, that seek to enable integration between Formal and Informal PT.

Self-regulation usually involves a form of market entry control imposed by operator associations, in order to protect their interests in certain areas/along certain routes. In these circumstances, it is thought that gaining ‘permission’ to operate may have more to do with kinship and community than effective balancing of transport supply and demand. On occasions, route protection can become violent as drivers compete for passengers ‘in the market’ to meet daily revenue targets.[21] During stakeholder interviews in Cape Town it was reported that associations have put their own enforcement systems and ‘traffic cops’ in place to ensure some measure of order.

IPT operators can be subject to several forms of regulation by public authorities:

IPT fare setting – whereby public authorities agree standard fares with unions/associations, with prices typically (re-)negotiated when there are major changes in fuel prices.

Quantity controls

  • Membership of a union/association – which provides a mechanism for supporting route licensing, as well as for promoting certain service and labour standards.

  • Quantity/Route licensing – these place controls on the numbers of vehicles that can operate overall and/or on certain routes, and should therefore help to reduce congestion and support the financial viability of operators with a valid license.


Quality controls

  • Vehicle quality standards – involving specification of vehicle safety and emissions standards, with compliance checked through inspections.

  • Driver licensing – drivers are trained and tested to gain a qualification for the relevant size of vehicle and number of passengers carried.

Traffic management and controls – these comprise the standard rules of driving on a public highway, as well as any special controls and traffic management that relate to IPT, such as where vehicles can stop for passengers to board and alight.

These different forms of regulation will all have financial implications for IPT operators, such as the clear and direct effect of fare setting, as well as any route licensing fees that operators also need to pay.

Different forms of hybridity regulation, that seek to deliver complementarity between Formal PT ‘trunk’ services and IPT ‘feeder services’, have been tested in Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania. Elsewhere in the world, these have taken different forms of service commissioning and regulation: route licenses with financial rewards, area-based quantity licences; area-based concessions; area-based franchises; and route-based contracts. Significantly, these have included approaches that have sought to ensure operator profitability in return for consistent service delivery at times of the day with reduced passenger travel demand.

Comparison of situations and perspectives from the TRANSITIONS cities

The TRANSITIONS cities represent different situations in terms of the complexity and maturity of regulatory frameworks. Nevertheless, the central form of control, route licensing, is in place in all cities to some degree with the exception of an unclear situation in Freetown, and the question therefore arises to what extent the regulatory frameworks are applied and enforced in practice.

Fare setting is undertaken for all cities except Cape Town, where the industry associations themselves are able to determine fares. The process involves negotiations between national ministries and unions/associations, but a number of questions remain. It has been stated that fuel prices trigger discussions, but it is not clear how fare affordability and financial viability of services are taken into account. Moreover, it is not apparent whether agreed fare levels are maintained in practice, given the opaque nature of accounting practices. Claims of increased prices during peak hours have been raised in previous studies.

Association membership and route licensing

Membership of unions/associations and route licensing often appear to go ‘hand in hand’, with public authorities requiring affiliation with an association when processing operating licenses for specific routes.

 In the cases of Accra and Kumasi, the national Road Traffic Regulations Legislative Instrument 2180 requires all public transport operators to be members of a transport union and to belong to a station. Moreover, a license should be obtained to operate on specified routes from the local administration (Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies).

For IPT to operate legally in Cape Town, each vehicle is required to have an operating license (OL) which indicates the route or routes, and their respective start and end points (“A” and “B” points), on which the vehicle is allowed to operate. A sticker is applied on vehicles to indicate the authorised route numbers. A minibus-taxi association has to support the OL application of an individual operator (i.e. vehicle owner), which in practice means that a prospective MBT operator has to belong to one of these associations in order to operate legally.

Speaking about the poda poda operations in Freetown, one government official stated that regulation of the poda-podas was limited to issuing licenses to drivers and vehicles and routing them. Others stated that the informal transport industry is not yet sufficiently defined by policy and regulation, but that the government is working on formalizing and creating policy and regulations for them.

In the case of Maputo, IPT regulation stems from the 1989 Transport Regulations for Automobiles (RTA - Decreto nº. 24/89, de 8 de Agosto) that first authorised, through licensing, the circulation of private collective transport. These took the form of Chapa 100, which were more similar to the services now known as MyLoves (open-back vans). More recently, public authorities have taken legislative steps to improve safety and efficiency of IPT. In 2019, the Municipality of Maputo stopped licensing new minibuses with 15 seats, allowing only the renewal of annual licences for these types of vehicles. The intention is to promote a migration to 26 seat vehicles in the future. Two years ago, the municipality also introduced regulations to prohibit the carrying out of passenger transport with MyLoves, supported by an intensive enforcement campaign by municipal police that was generally effective in implementing the ban. Nevertheless, given the pressure to provide transportation, the municipality is reconsidering the need to allow MyLoves to operate, but with improved conditions.

Failure of route licensing approaches appear to occur for three main reasons: first of all, there can be large numbers of unions and associations and there is no clear incentive for them to limit their membership or the numbers of vehicles operating on routes. In the case of the Kumasi Metropolitan Area, there are around 24 registered unions and, while each union should have a clear mandate (such as to operate a certain route or to carry freight), various transport unions are now not operating according to these mandates. Additionally, it was claimed that some unions have now waived their registration fees in order to attract members.

Secondly, the route licensing process by the local public authority may not be sufficiently well managed. In the case of Cape Town, it has been claimed that the Operating License system is failing to adequately match supply with demand. An oversupply of service on existing routes, as well as jostling to serve new urban development, has led the associations to set up their own enforcement approaches to avoid destructive competition.

And finally, adherence to route licensing is not sufficiently enforced by the local public authorities that issue permissions. Stakeholders in both Accra and Kumasi have observed a growing presence of ‘floaters’ or waawaa (as they are known locally in Kumasi) - unregistered trotros which operate outside of the unionised terminal system. During interviews, union leaders claimed that there are now more ‘floating’ trotros operating in Accra than registered ones, while for Kumasi, it was stated that enforcement activities were more effective in the past, making it difficult for any trotro operator to stop anywhere by the roadside. The prospect of corruption amongst enforcement officials was raised as a reason for increased ‘floater’ operations. By making discrete payments to officials, it was advised that waawaa operators can avoid queuing for passengers at the terminals.

The need for more effective competition management and enforcement mechanisms appears to be a priority common to all cities.

Vehicle quality standards

A set out in further detail here, processes for ensuring the quality of vehicles are most developed in the case of the Cape Town. As allowed for in the National Land Transport Act of 2009, the National Department of Transport (NDoT) specifies the safety standards for, and from time to time issues an approved list of, vehicles that can be used as minibus-taxis (MBTs). From the MBT operator perspective[1], it was reported that traffic law enforcement tends to focus on MBT vehicles to a greater extent than on other forms of public transport or road users. This is particularly by comparison to buses, where officers are purported to turn a blind eye on vehicle defects or overloading. Traffic officers pull over minibuses for any perceived infraction, forcing passengers to disembark without concern for their onward travel or financial situation (MBT fares are paid in cash, thus passengers need to pay again to continue their journey on another vehicle or mode). A similar problem was observed in Maputo. During the TRANSITIONS interviews, it was stated that “if you don’t pay then they’ll look for something to get you in to trouble, so people are forced to pay anything, almost every day.” During the surveys of the crews, 39% of those surveyed identified paying the police officers as one of their usual operating expenses.

In relation to Kumasi, the overseeing the inspection of vehicles appears to be left in the hands of Unions, in which case inconsistent practices might be assumed. No routine checks of vehicles were reported for Freetown.

Driver licensing

Holding a valid commercial driving licence is a prerequisite for registering as a driver with associations and unions in Accra, Kumasi and Cape Town, while a standard driving licence is sufficient to drive a poda poda in Freetown. Stakeholders in Freetown highlighted the need for dedicated training, relating to both the comfort and safety of passengers. As discussed further in here and here, driving behaviours are also influenced by competition for passengers and road conditions, hence addressing this aspect of service delivery is best achieved through a combination of actions.

Main findings and messages

Fare setting is a widely established practice, occuring in four of the five TRANSITIONS study cities, but the process is not well understood. Given that it is a key determinant of both business viability and the affordability of mobility, it is a subject worthy of further research.

Route licensing is a central component of IPT regulation and is considered a basic requirement of following the TRANSITIONS Routemap, which in turn requires that three main challenges are overcome: unions/associations do not have a clear incentive to limit their membership so oversupply may result; public authorities often lack the knowledge and process to monitor vehicles numbers and adequately match supply with demand when issuing licenses; and route licenses are often not adequately checked and enforced.

Without proper enforcement of route licensing, then aggressive competition on routes and the associated congestion and road safety issues result in a spiral of decline. In these circumstances, the illegal operators such as waawaa in Ghana and pirates in Cape Town can proliferate. Creating clear enforcement structures, and potentially a dedicated team linked to a transport authority, may be necessary in order to avoid issues of corruption.

Further resources:

  • Bayliss 2002 ‘Review: Urban public transport competition’ – This paper presents a helpful representation of the spectrum of urban public transport (regulatory and procurement) regimes, from open market through to public monopoly, specifying a ‘Paratransit’ IPT domain, alongside a ‘Fixed Track domain’ relating to formal PT.

  • Durant et al. 2022 ‘Re-evaluating roles and relationships between city authorities and informal public transport operators in Sub-Saharan Africa: a comparative analysis of five cities.’  This paper, presented at the Thredbo Conference in September 2022, seeks to position the five case cities in relation to the regulatory spectrum described by Bayliss 2002, providing further commentary in relation to the text above.



21. ​See Finn et al. 2011 and Gwilliam 2011 for further background information.

bottom of page