The next stage after the streets of Freetown have been cleared of casual traders, is to rid them of taxis charging for individual seats, minibuses (poda podas) and commercial motorcycles. Does that sound improbable, even impossible? If the City Council really wants to give Freetown a new look, then that is the obvious sequel to the street clearance exercise.
To say that Freetown streets are congested is an understatement. People have become conditioned to accepting poor transport facilities, worse problems for pedestrians, and thorough discomfort in all areas even if they own private cars. You are no longer free to move around as you wish.
I was astounded to hear on the radio a few days ago from an RTA official that there were buses running in Freetown since I was not aware of having seen any that were not hired for private use at funerals etc. If his statement is true, then where do they stop and what schedule do they follow? There was also talk of 6 buses in use on the day the taxi drivers had their meeting. The Minister of Transport also mentioned 10 buses supposedly arriving from Ghana. Encouraging talk, perhaps, but what relation do such figures bear to the needs of the situation? He then went on to specify that the 10 were for use countrywide because transport facilities were needed all over the country. True enough, but what impact would 10 buses make all over the country while Freetown remains a mess? What’s wrong with dealing first with the capital city, the showcase of the country, attractive to tourists and investors and home to one third or more of the country’s population?
Freetown needs a fleet of buses. If I were a millionaire I would donate 60 buses for a town service from UP GUN to Lumley in the first instance and then another 10 to the hillside and seaside villages. How about that? Then we could have proper bus stops again instead of just one at Brookfields known as BUS HALT. There could be at least a 10-miniute service so that you never have to wait for long at any one stop. How wonderful that would be!. One could then travel day or night till 10.30 or 11p.m with a seat to oneself, not squashed like beans in a pod. Even beans have some elbow room.
I have never forgotten the smell of a lively under arm next to me as I sat in the back seat of a taxi. The dear lady in the middle was big and couldn’t help leaning forward with her arms up as she clung to the seats in front, which put my nose in the firing line for the shots of sweaty odour that assailed me throughout the journey. Let taxis revert to running from door to door at what ever price, if people can afford them, according to laid down tariffs. Comfortable buses will do the rest. The minibuses and motorcycles are a menace. They should be relegated to rural areas where there are lengths of empty roads to delight them. The people of Freetown deserve more dignified means of transport befitting the most prestigious West African city for centuries. Let tourists come and have the pleasure of a problem-free ride through out historic city.
Taxis have become moving cages where captive passengers are robbed of everything from money to mobile phones. It has become quite a smart and lucrative business for a driver and his team to organize especially at night. One of their tricks is: ‘Oh! the door is not shut!’ And an arm goes out across your face to pretend to shut the door while an accomplice empties your purse. You make a report at the Police Station the next day and you are asked ‘What was the number of the taxi?’ The Police advises you never to get into a taxi with men only who offer to squash you in after you’ve been waiting for transport for ages. You stagger home and set about getting a new phone next day. What a lif!
A young woman recently found herself driven up a side street to a lonely spot where all 3 male occupants of her taxi got out and set upon her, emptying her handbag and attempting to undress her in readiness to gang rape her, when her screams caught the attention of a nearby resident who was too scare to come out but helped by hurling huge stones in the direction of the screams. The men took to their heels while the sobbing girl was taken home by kind folk.
This is what the transport situation in Freetown has led to. We need buses. A decent bus services as the city once had, would take care of a multitude of ills. Nothing will happen in the traffic sector in the foreseeable future if drastic action is not taken. The new road through the hills will take a long time to construct. We cannot afford to build flyovers. So, relieve Freetown of its unbearable congestion by investing in buses now. The City Council should pressurize the Ministry of Transport to bring this into effect. Otherwise all their efforts at easing road use will have been wasted. Freetown is not a proper city if it has no regular bus service.
By Lulu Wright