Every big city has its own peculiar problems when it comes to road traffic and the congestion of road networks. Accra is experiencing rapid urbanization largely due to a natural increase and migration of people from rural areas to the main centres of commercial activity. With an estimated population of 4 million, at some point, there will be a debate whether or not to build a subway in the city of Accra.
Certainly, digging huge tunnels to construct an elaborate railway system may sound like a brilliant idea, especially when advanced cities like Chicago and New York have already paved the way. However, it is very expensive to build them. As cities expand and urban population increases, it calls for measures to be taken to ease movement through effective transportation networks. The question therefore is: can Accra thrive without a subway metro system? (Remember that Ghana now has a Railway ministry after so many years of redundancy). Thank you, Mr. President.
Currently, there is an alternative to the “traditional” means of transport or the “trotro.” The erstwhile governments introduced the “Metro Mass Transit” and the “Ayalolo” respectively to supplement the efforts of Ghana’s commercial transport industry and to provide timely and cheaper transport services to commuters in Accra. It is sad, however, that in a recent development commuters will rather prefer trotro’s to those buses.
There are numerous benefits trotro provides pedestrians, including myself. In as much as I do not condemn the trotro because of the livelihood it provides for its drivers and their conductors (or ‘mates’), the dangers of this informal means of transportation is plain obvious. People commute in container-made, cargo-like vehicles which have no seat belts and yet forced to squeeze one against the other for several minutes until reaching one’s destination. These are vehicles approved by the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Authority to operate on the roads (so revenue is already being generated). The frustration of the trotro lies in the irregularity of waiting time at bus stops and the blatant disregard for road regulations by drivers and passengers. The key question here is to know what percentage of average time spent waiting to board a trotro and the average estimated time it takes for people to reach their destination.
The difficulty expressed by those who prefer to dump the buses for trotro is on the operation or malfunctioning of the access cards, and overcrowding of people within the buses. These inefficiencies need to be tackled; however, in terms of safety, comfort and efficiency, these buses offer a cheaper alternative to the trotro although they have to stop at every bus stop.
This leads to the argument that a city like Accra with a population of around 4 million people needs a subway in the near future. There is no hiding away from it. However, such a project needs to be funded through public-private partnerships, since it would drain the government’s budget if it used home-grown funds. Such planning needs to consider the distance and time constraints. So, the big question is: should the government invest in a subway or stick with the buses?
There are clear advantages to using a subway. It is an underground railway system which will likely have twice the capacity of a Metro Mass or Ayalolo bus because there will be no traffic underground and only fewer stops. Second, running big diesel vehicles/buses, (which includes the trotro) creates a lot of pollution. Underground trains could be made hybrid and run on electricity; however, with the experience of energy crisis will it be the best solution bearing in mind power cuts or dumsor?
In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the city is taking bold strides to enhance its transport system. It comes at a huge cost; however, it seems Tanzanians are willing to make it work. Any lessons for Ghana?
Kwame A. Twumasi-Ankrah
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