The Traffic Division of the Central Police and the Sierra Leone Commercial Bike Riders Union have attributed their challenges to effect a price system on Okada riders.
The total disregard of laid down rules and procedures, is now resulting to excessive charges on motorbike users.
During the last Christmas festive period in December, commuters have suffered in the hands of bike riders, on account of unreasonable charges levied on commuters to cover a short distance.
A motorbike passenger, Mariama Koroma, who was interviewed while haggling with a bike rider at Up-Gun told Awoko that she was negotiating for a sum of Le 2,000 from that point (UP-Gun) to Eastern Police. But she claimed the rider was insisting on Le 3,000, which she said was exorbitant.
Mariama claimed further that “I have tried other riders for Le 2,000 but all of them seem to be running a syndicate in terms of their fixed prices.
Another victim of the Okada price hike, William Koroma, a student of Fourah Bay College said that he pays at least Le 10,000 at normal times to and from his house at Murray Town to Model Junction.
He alleged that in some instances, especially during shortage of fuel and festive seasons, he pays far more than that.
However, a motorbike rider Osman Turay, who was interviewed at Up-Gun, claimed that the reason for their requesting for such amounts, as claimed by passengers, is partly because of police incessant harassment, as well as their union- the bike riders union, tax them to pay daily, and fines levied on them.
Osman further disclosed that they pay the sum of Le1,000 daily to the union, apart from other commitments they are forced to meet, “we are mostly arrested by Bike Monitoring Officers (Task Force) if we do not for example, buy a sticker at the cost of Le 5,000 or our bikes will be arrested. And to retrieve it, we pay more than normal.”
He also claimed that Traffic Police harassment over the years has warranted them to charge heavy sums to convey people around town.
He said “if we are arrested for minor traffic offences, we pay far higher than a poda-poda or taxi driver committing similar offences. And if we do not pay that money, at the point of arrest, we will pay something like Le200,000 when the case goes further”, he claimed.
John Sesay, a bike rider plying from Dworzack Junction to the hills added “when there is fuel scarcity, the black marketers will prevail on fuel suppliers so that they would have in store huge quantity of fuel and then sell it to us at abnormal rates. When that happens, instead of Le 4,500 for a litre, we will end up buying it at Le 10,000”, he claimed.
John further maintained “because of the high price in the black market and the harassment we always face, we end up charging considerable amount of money, so that we could make some profit to meet our numerous demands.”
Inspector Kabba Sesay of the Central Police Traffic Division expressed “total disgust’ at the attitude of Okada Riders, especially their lawlessness.
Giving a rough statistics, he calculated that five to six okada riders are sent to Pademba Road on a daily basis, on grounds of traffic offences and their unappealing attitudes towards passengers.
Inspector Kabba even cited some health implications on the operations of Okada in the city. He said, “The increase in carbon monoxide affecting the lives of the people is because of the thick fumes most okadas emit in the air. Also the numerous (sometimes fatal) accidents they are involved in.”
Therefore, he went on, the prohibition of motorbikes along the Central Business District (CBD), when it will have gained effect, would be something the Police will be very desperate in enforcing it. He said they will raid every prohibited area to get rid of them.
However, on the claim that they levy too much fines on them in case of minor traffic offence, Inspector Kabba noted “if it is because of the charges they pay when they commit crimes, that they levy huge charges on passengers, why can’t the commercial drivers too increase money for the distances they cover? he questioned, adding, “they are just making a field day out of the prevailing transport scarcity and the massive traffic congestion in the city”.
He also said that they hardly arrest bikes because they have no fixed place to track them down. “They are everywhere. A bike rider can take a passenger from Calaba Town for example, and ply all the way to Aberdeen.”
He argued that bike riders could only be uniformed in terms of their excesses through the efforts of their union. He said the union is the body accepted by the government to monitor and control some of the activities of commercial bike riders.
The President of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bike Riders Union, David Sesay, who spoke to Awoko through his Public Relations Officer, Alusine Dumbuya admitted that price control among commercial bike riders remain a challenge to the union, “but we are planning to fight against it”.
He argued that commercial bikes are different from other transport system simply because their service(s) at every point are negotiable. He said they are, as a union, planning a way of ensuring that they get a uniformed price for short distances, especially to land mark areas.
Alusine said that since the formation of the union in 2005, one of the major impediments to achieving their aims is to galvanize the operations of the 180,000 registered motorbikes in the country, with Western area alone having 8,000.
Therefore, he went on, “the dues and fines we levy on bike riders are geared towards facilitating the drive to making commercial motor bikes passenger-friendly and to surmount some of these challenges”, he claimed.
Efforts to reach the Ministry of Transport on whether there is any mechanism or plans to institute price control system on commercial bike riders proved futile.
By Poindexter Sama