Will Accra’s BRT be a breath of fresh air?

Accra is set to welcome its bus rapid transit (BRT) system by the end of 2015. The route between Amasaman (a suburb of Accra) and Accra is almost complete, and the BRT operator is testing the first batch of buses, which arrived earlier this year, on the exclusive road lanes designated for the system.

A major infrastructural work, the BRT project consists of two major flyovers, bus infrastructural facilities including new terminals and a remodeling of sections of the famous Achimota bus terminal, including new bus shelters.

The BRT system is a welcome addition for Accra’s commuters since traffic congestion is a major challenge for drivers and public transport users. But there are mixed views about its expected impact.

Kwaku Nkansah, a student at the University of Ghana, says the bus rapid transit system will enable him to get to school faster and on time. He currently uses tro tros (privately owned minibus taxis) to get to university but says they are dirty and not kept in good condition.

Another student, Yaa Hohpe, however, does not think that the BRT will work because “tro tros move much faster and can easily weave through traffic. People would rather stick “to the devil they know than the angel they don’t know,” she says.

Public transport apathy

In Accra people have lost faith in the poor quality public transport system. Commuting in the city, especially the congested central parts, is characterized by lengthy journeys and waiting times. Commuters can choose from a menu of options that includes the infamous roving minibus taxis, tro tros, taxis, bicycles, motors (motor bikes) and of course private vehicles, for those who can afford them. Some government agencies such as Metro Mass Transit Company (MMT) and ISTC Coaches Ltd. also provide an extensive network of urban, intra urban, inter-city and rural urban bus services

A study by Carmudi, an online car dealership, found Ghana to have a higher motorization rate than other African countries like Zambia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Tanzania. And with a robust second-hand vehicle market, cars are increasingly accessible to Accra’s middle class.

Enyonam Davis, a recent second-hand vehicle buyer, says she would not like to travel on public transport because it is uncomfortable. She sees the euphoria around the BRT dying quickly.

As journalist Leonie Joubert highlights in a South African case study, owning a car can also be seen as a status symbol — another reason car owners might prefer to drive themselves instead of use public transport.

Transport policy: moving forward

The BRT project has received tremendous support with government saying it will spend an estimated $1 billion annually for the next five years on road construction. It’s the start of an urban transport upgrade for Ghana’s cities.

The ongoing implementation of the BRT forms part of the Ghana National Urban Policy Action Plan, which seeks to addresses the need for improvement of the urban transport system in the country’s major cities. Government is working across departments to do this and has also partnered with development and donor agencies. The BRT, for example, is jointly funded by the World Bank, French Development Agency (AfD), Global Environment Facility Trust Fund, and the Government of Ghana at an estimated $95 million. The Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), meanwhile, is providing assistance to the development of a Transport Master Plan for the Greater Accra Region at a cost of $1.5 million.

The BRT system is the sign of the changing transport landscape in the city and the country at large. The new BRT could be a breath of fresh air and a long awaited alternative to the current struggling State Transport Corporation (STC). Despite the rise of car ownership, many urban dwellers still rely on public transport. The need for urban mobility to ensure efficient mass movement of people is gaining some significance in the city’s urban agenda. Whether or not the BRT will be a success remains to be determined.

 

Jane Lumumba is an urban practitioner and PhD candidate in Public Administration and Public Policy based in Accra, Ghana. She is currently a consultant at the Commonwealth Local Government Forum working in the fields of local economic development in West Africa.

Photo: Traffic in Accra. Jane Lumumba.

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2 Responses to “Will Accra’s BRT be a breath of fresh air?”

  1. Joe

    If history is anything to go by, the success or otherwise of the BRT service largely depends on making the service attractive to commuters. The metro mass transit was a welcome addition and served a major share of urban transporters. But the service quickly succumbed to corruption (according to audit reports on MMT agencies). Commuters were poorly served, sometimes over-charged, and the buses were congested. Broken buses were left unrepaired until the service almost collapsed. With this new service, commuters are even more skeptical now and are likely to abandon them at the least instance of a bad service. By keeping the buses attractive (e.g using the dedicated bus lanes which will reduce travel time compared to tro tros and private cars; and keeping them tidy) travellers are more likely to embrace the service. Importantly, maintaining the condition of the buses is critical else there wont be a motivation to shift from tro tro / or private vehicles to buses.

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  2. Kwei Quartey

    My fear is maintenance of the system or lack thereof. Ghanaians love new stuff, but don’t bother to try to KEEP it new.

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