Embark one; alight three – the nightmare of public transportation

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Fatou Darboe (a.k.a Princess Tima Darboe) is showcasing the daily challenges of our women folk who supply the fuel for our economic engine. Her new show on the Kerr Fatou Media platform Kutubung Daala gives us a window into the challenges these women face on a daily basis. From their vegetable gardens to the bare ground that serve as market stalls that they get chased from, they contend with very difficult conditions just to get their produce to the markets for some small income that helps them take care of their families.

Between the vegetable gardens and the markets are the transportation managers/owners/drivers and the additional layer of nightmarish challenge they put these women through. It must be noted that this applies to all commuters who use public transportation; from students to housewives, civil servants and private sector employees who need to get to and from their varied daily assignments.

It used to be that you could board a taxi, say from Westfield/Cooperative to Bakau or from Banjul to Tabokoto/Brikama and pay the designated fare between point of origin and destination. But now, to get to Bakau you embark from Westfield/Cooperative with the destination announced as “Traffic Lights”. From “Traffic Lights” the next announced destination is “Observer” junction. You’ll have to pay from “Observer” junction to Bakau (water front/market). So for a destination that is supposed to cost you D7.00 or D8.00 you end up paying D21.00

Unless your final destination is less than 2 miles from your origin, be prepared to pay multiple fares to the same driver or board and alight multiple vehicles and still pay multiple fares. For every route in The Gambia’s urban areas, commuters face the same issue of not being able to go straight to their desired destination without paying multiple times to get there. The issue is not about designated legal stops/public transport depots (Garass), it’s about greed. The same driver who told you he’s not going as far as point C will take you to point B and as he approaches point B he starts picking up passengers seeking to get to point C. You will either have to pay the same driver additional fare to proceed on to point C or alight at point B and get another cab.

It is worse on the other route. A driver who plies the Banjul Tabokoto route will only pick from Tabokoto those passengers who want to go only as far as Latri Kunda. As he approaches, he asks his apprentice to look for passengers going to Westfield junction. At Westfield junction the next set of passengers will only be taken as far as old Jeshwang. But as soon as he starts approaching Old Jeshwang, again the passengers going to Banjul will be sought to board.

Image result for public gambia transport

Try as much as you’d like to rationalize the logic behind this, you won’t be able to. From old Jeshwang to the public transport depot in Banjul is AT LEAST four times the distance between Jeshwang and Westfield in mileage. So we can conclude that the fees charged are not based on mileage covered. Between Jeshwang and Banjul there is no expectation of picking up commuters as there are no residential areas in between. So the only explanation is that they are trying to fill their pockets.

To confirm that theory, on week days between 10:30-11:00 a.m and 1:30 2:00 p.m you can board a vehicle from Tabokoto (or even Brikama) to Banjul and pay one standard fare. That is because there is not many passengers needing to commute.

Ironically also, the same vehicles that charged multiple fares from point of origin A (Tabokoto) to destination E (Banjul) while lying that they were only going as far as destination B (Latri Kunda), then C (Westfield junction) then D (Old Jeshwang) before finally admitting that they’re in fact headed to destination E (Banjul), upon reaching Banjul will announce Tabokoto as the destination for the return trip and charge the returning commuters one standard fare, three times less than the trip coming in.

The reason being that you hardly get any commuters coming from Banjul towards Tabokoto/Brikama in the mornings, everyone heads towards Banjul during the morning rush hours. So the drivers will take passengers from Banjul to Tabokoto and charge you that one rate, but as soon as they turn around towards Banjul, they quadruple the fare.

Can you imagine those women getting on and off public transport vans with their perishable wares in an attempt to get to the market for some meager income? They either contend with that or pull their meager resources together to hire one that will take them all the way at exorbitant prices.

Employees who get transport allowances, get paid at the rate of the officially announced transport fares put up by the transport union. So if the rate is D5 either way, for example, that will be a total of D10 a day for a round trip. So the employee gets paid D10 times the number of days they are expected to be at work within a pay period, that’s D300 a month added to his salary if they are expected to be at work every day. That person ends up paying D5 three times just to get to work and since the time he gets off will be a peak period, he repeats the same process making a round trip D30 a day instead of D10. Ten days into the month his transport allowance is exhausted and there is twenty days left to work. He is forced to take D600 out of his already meager pay to augment his transportation cost. Rent suffers, feeding suffers, children’s education suffers and the economic woes keep compounding.

So in case you are wondering why everybody stands by the roadside looking for free rides, there is one possible answer.

We decry the corruption at the level of politicians and government, but was it not quoted from some wise soul that “leaders are a reflection of the people they lead?”

Where is our compassion for each other? Why do we fear poverty so much as to exploit each other so oppressively just to get a few unworthy dalasis. Nay; it’s not the fear of poverty (which should be feared) but greed, lack of empathy and blatant inconsiderate behavior. That same driver charging excess fares will have a friend, neighbor, relative or acquaintance stay in the car (without paying) because he would have assured passenger to stay in the car since he’s in fact going to Banjul while lying to everyone else that he is only stopping at Latri Kunda, then lied further that he’s stopping at Westfield, then Jeshwang and finally told the truth that he’s going to Banjul when he knew from the onset that he was going to Banjul.

Demand and supply can be an easy excuse, the cost of fuel may also be another but you and I know it is neither of those things. The Transport Union, in factoring what a fair rate to charge would be, consider fuel costs.

The same drivers for whom we were fighting when there was a row over transport fares, are the same drivers exploiting a desperate situation for their own gain. The things our struggling women especially have to contend with because they have no other alternative are mind boggling. How do we tackle them? Your guess is as good as mine.

Like in any situation, there are those who are exceptions. Some drivers announce their final destination from point of origin and they fare no worse than those charging excessively. They deserve commendation.


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