Expert proposes licensing of public transport operators
Ghana’s current public transportation system could be improved if government introduced licensure into its operation, Transport Consultants, H&M Premium Partners, have said.
Speaking in an interview with the B&FT, Senior Partner, Harrison Okyere Nyarko, described the country’s current public transportation system as one in a very sorry state, which needed an urgent and complete overhauling.
He said licensing was necessary to ensure effective control of the subsector, adding that the requirement to obtain operating licence for a commercial transport business had a sound footing in regulation 121 (1) of the Road Traffic Regulation 2012, L.I. 2180.
The current system where “anyone” with cash can buy a bus and operate public transport service, without having to meet any rigorous licensing requirements, poses a serious threat to the development of the country, he said.
“Given the important linkage of transportation with other sectors of the economy, and the fact that it affects every economic activity, it is important that government gives it serious attention,” he said.
Government, Harrison Okyere Nyarko advised, needs to implement a network scheme where licences would be issued to Limited Liability Companies meeting a prescribed minimum requirement, whilst operators who fall short of the prescribed requirement are made to operate under those with licenses, and brand in their operational colors, similar to the model adopted by the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) in the oil marketing subsector.
“Government should adopt the model currently in use in the oil marketing subsector, where the NPA makes it mandatory for individual filling station operators who do not meet the full requirement to become an OMC to belong to a bigger umbrella, like Shell, and also brand in their colors.”
The consultant believes that it is clear transport unions and associations have failed to deliver the needed service quality to consumers of public transport because the subsector is too large for them to manage as unions.
He emphasised that individual transport operators lose nothing by belonging to a bigger network operator.
“They would continue to operate and collect their own fares as they currently do, but pay a standard annual franchise fee to the network operator. The network operators could be charged with specific supervisory responsibilities to perform, failure of which could lead to the revocation of operating license.
Currently, government is unable to administer effective control with licence revocation through the unions because the members in the unions are too many. Whose license will you revoke, GPRTU or the individual members? You see what I am talking about?” he quizzed.
Throwing further light on the proposed system, Mr. Okyere Nyarko said, the effect of branding in the operational colors of an umbrella body (network operator) is the introduction of an identification system, where consumers of public transport services could easily identify, choose and patronise the services of a preferred service provider.
“At transport terminals, for example, different vehicles belonging to different network operators heading for the same destination could be made available for loading at the same time, so that consumers could choose their preferred operator for boarding.”
He said the competition introduced with the easy identification (through branding) would spur service quality and efficiency, whilst branding would also have an important role to play in the enforcement of road traffic laws, since road traffic offenders could easily be spotted using their brand colors.
The role of government
Government’s role in the public transport subsector, he said, should be limited to supervision and control, correction of market inefficiencies, issuance of licences to qualifying network operators, revocation of licences of nonperforming network operators and the development of bus stops and terminals.
“Licence revocation threat is actually necessary to engender efficient competition and good service quality. The revocation threat to network operators will work because they are limited liability companies with profit motives, as opposed to the unions, which are not-for-profit organisations. And, if the NPA is able to efficiently regulate the oil marketing subsector, we should not have problem adopting same strategy for public transport. In future, government should consider setting up a public transport authority to oversee the subsector”, he added.
What happens to existing transport associations?
Asked what the fate of existing transport associations would be under the proposed system, Mr. Okyere Nyarko responded that such transport associations would continue to operate to regulate the conduct of drivers.
He said regulation 121 (2) of the road traffic regulation 2012, L.I. 2180 requires all commercial vehicle drivers (but not operators) to belong to a recognised commercial road transport organisation, which the Regulation interprets to include unions such as GPRTU, PROTOA and the Concerned Drivers Union.
However, the operators of transport businesses are those who would be required to join the bigger umbrella and have their vehicles branded.
“You can simply liken my position to the profession of law. To be called a Lawyer, you should belong to the Ghana Bar Association. However, to operate a law practice, you need a licence from the General Legal Council. In the context of public transport, the GPRTU is the Ghana Bar Association whilst the licenced network operator is the law practice firm. It is important that we make a distinction between an operator and a driver. You could be an operator but not a driver; and could be both an operator and driver too”, he explained further.
“In implementing every new system, you would encounter challenges, especially the case of public transport where you have to deal with a switch from an established order. However, with a firm commitment from government, adequate public education and sensitization, active stakeholders’ engagement and coordination among the various affected agencies in the transport sector, the system should be successfully rolled out.”
Vehicle disposal and ‘non-roadworthy’ cars
Mr. Okyere Nyarko also expressed concern over very old, “non-roadworthy” cars and the manner in which vehicles are disposed of in the country.
He said people’s homes and mechanic shops are becoming the dumping ground for permanently immobilised cars, which would make it difficult for the DVLA to tell the number of active cars on the country’s roads for congestion and other developmental planning purposes.
Although L.I. 2180 (regulation 18) mandates car owners to inform DVLA of their permanently immobilised cars, it is a public knowledge that DVLA has not been able to enforce this provision over the years. He said his firm, H&M Premium Partners Limited, was ready to work with government to deal with vehicle disposal management, and to implement the proposed network system for public transport.
A transport efficient nation is a stress-free nation, he concluded.