Working for the fuel: the sad reality of being a commercial driver


In January this year, Big Joe – as he wants to be called – made at least GH¢700 daily as revenue from his business as a commercial transport (‘trotro’) driver in Accra, whose trip is from the central business district of Accra to Ashale Botwe. After taking out fuel cost of GH¢105, he gives GH¢170 to his car owner as daily sales. Then, with the remaining GH¢450, he pays his conductor (also known as mate) GH¢150, keeps some for maintenance and has the rest for himself. Business was quite good at the time.

But fast forward to today (July): on a very busy day, Big Joe says he makes GH¢840 a day as revenue due to the increment in fuel prices, but buys GH¢450 worth of fuel for the same number of trips. He makes the same daily sales to his car owner and is now left with just GH¢220 – of which he will give one-third to his mate, saves part for maintenance, and keeps whatever is remaining for himself.

This is the reality that commercial drivers in the country are confronted with on a daily basis. The astronomic jump in fuel prices has guzzled all their gains, leaving them working only for the fuel.

Fuel prices at the pump keep seeing an increment every two weeks (pricing window). In January 2022, a litre of petrol and diesel sold at GH¢6.70 but moved to GH¢7.50 in February. March saw petrol selling at GH¢9.80, and diesel at GH¢10.70. Prices at the pump declined marginally in April, with petrol going for GH¢9.41 and diesel GH¢10.36.

However, in May, petrol sold at the pumps for GH¢9.79 and diesel GH¢11.71. Then in June petrol sold at GH¢10.55, with diesel going for GH¢13.67. Currently, the average price of fuel per litre at pumps in the country is GH¢11 for petrol and GH¢14 for diesel.

One driver called Ignatius, who drives a Mercedes Benz Sprinter and plies the Madina-Abokobi route, says the situation is so bad that on one bad day after work there was virtually nothing left for him and his mate, as all the revenue they got went into fuel cost and sales for his car owner.

The rising fuel prices has shot- up the national inflation, with data from the Ghana Statistical Service showing inflation has hit its highest level in nearly two decades, recording 27.6 percent in June. The drivers say this has affected spare-parts prices as well; thereby increasing the cost of maintenance.

“As for spare-parts, we don’t even talk about it. The prices are now twice what we used to buy them. Sometimes, we don’t even get the parts to buy because the sellers say they are not able to import because of the dollar,” Ignatius said.

For some of these drivers the impact of this situation goes beyond their crying over reduced income, as the breadwinners among them are having a tough time providing for the needs of their family.

A driver the B&FT interviewed, who was visibly upset and frustrated and as a result didn’t even want us to mention his name, said he has a wife and two kids, with one of them in Senior High School. Life has become tough for the family – to the extent that his marriage is now wobbling. Even though there is a Free Senior High School policy, he said, there are so many costs he has to bear due to the education system’s current structure.

Kwame, a driver who usually plies the Accra-Madina route, said sometimes he has to change his route and find other areas where it is likely to get passengers – as the increment in transport fares has changed the behavior of some commuters, who switch between walking and picking a trotro just to cut costs.

And truly, commuters’ pockets have been hit hard by the current situation – as fuel prices have seen a more than 40 percent increase since beginning of the year. Some commuters say their transportation budget has doubled.

Afia, a commuter who was interviewed at the Ashale Botwe School Junction, said in January she set aside GH¢100 just for transportation… but now she spends beyond GH¢200.

A mother of two, Rejoice – who drives herself and her kids to school each day with a Toyota Corolla – told B&FT that she spent GH¢400 to fill her fuel tank in January but now spends above GH¢850.

Ride-hailing app drivers such as Uber, Bolt, Yango, among others, have also not been left out of the predicament. Most of them say despite the high cost of fuel, the app has not adjusted fares upward due to competition. This leaves them working just for the car owners.

For commercial drivers, the present situation – coupled with the projections made by energy think-tanks that fuel prices will continue to see price shocks due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war – leaves them helpless and hopeless.

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