Millions of Ghanaians rely on “tro-tro”, the ubiquitous minibuses, to get around. Ghana’s tro-tro is equivalent to Nigeria’s danfos and Tanzania’s daladalas. The tro-tro industry supports daily life, creates employment and contributes to the larger economy in profound ways by providing low cost/highly adaptable/resilient and, largely frequent transport services that generate substantial access for millions of people; services which the state has historically failed to provide.
The drivers, however, are said to contribute to Ghana’s risky driving problems including overloading, over speeding and reckless overtaking. The popular media and policy narratives often attribute the problem to the drivers themselves–their unruliness/bad attitude or stubborn resistance to positive behavioral change. Often little consideration is given to how the power relations that surround, structure, and organize Tro-Tro work also contribute to the drivers’ behavior. Our recent contribution in this Journal fills this gap in the literature.
Ghana’s Tro-Tro industry, which emerged from the lack of organized public transport, largely revolves around a target system. The driver, almost always a man, and his assistant–Ghanaians call them “mates”–operate the bus as a sort of daily franchise. In return, the owner demands a daily fee, popularly called “sales”. The driver and the mate take home what remains once the “sales” target is reached. They also have to pay for the day’s fuel; the vehicle owner doesn’t contribute to this.
As with other African countries, unemployment is high in Ghana. The tro-tro industry, therefore, attracts plenty of jobseekers. This labor oversupply, together with the lack of labor protections, tilts the balance of employment negotiation power in favor of vehicle owners who capitalize on that to impose high “sales” on the drivers. This places tro-tro drivers in great occupational uncertainty, extremely harsh working conditions with meagre returns. The drivers are also frequently harassed by corrupt police officers who use threats of arrest to extort bribes.
Meanwhile the authorities have failed to adequately integrate the ecosystem of socio-cultural-economic activities that emerge at bus stations to properly support transit-oriented development in the cities. The resulting overcrowding and traffic congestion dissuade passengers and drivers alike from patronizing bus stations. What these mean overall is that, generally, Tro-Tro driving job is fraught with several problems including congestion, low wages; perpetual threats of job loss, and incarceration.
To generate enough revenues for themselves and their assistants; honor the exploitative contractual demands of their vehicle owners and the police bribes, the drivers are forced to drive for long hours, and overload the buses they rarely maintain, and to also extend their loading practices and competition for passengers into the space of roads and roadsides in order to escape the congestions at the bus stations. All these result in picking and dropping passengers at undesignated places; dangerous overtaking; improper turning; over-speeding; tailgating and other inappropriate and aggressive driving practices.
Based on these findings, we argue that punitive road safety policies that target the drivers themselves will yield limited benefits. Instead, the policies must target the work-related and system-level processes/conditions/constraints that solicit and compel them to be reckless on the roads. For instance, labor protection policies that improve working conditions are likely to elicit widespread and sustainable safer driving from the drivers–far more than the current public policy of imposing higher fines and longer prison sentences on them.
Criminologists/sociologists have had very little to say about the impact of work systems and conditions on working-class drivers’ commitment to road traffic laws in Africa. Our research bridges this gap in the literature and hopes to stimulate further application of criminological/sociological theories to model and address road transport problems in the continent.
The full paper is available here.