Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Daily Commute - Ghana style

Tro-tros are one of the most common forms of public transportation in Ghana. They are minivans that have been refitted with extra seats.

A regular tro-tro in Kumasi can carry up to 17 passengers, including the driver, the conductor – called mate - and two people squeezed into the front passenger seat.

View from the back of a full tro-tro

My tro-tro ride to work, which takes about 15 minutes in congestion-free traffic, costs 40peswas per trip. That’s equivalent to about 30cents. A taxi ride would cost about 3Ghc, equivalent to about C$2.25.

There are no route maps or fare schedules – at least, not in Kumasi. There are, however, landmarks where passengers can ask to be let off and by which the mate determines the fare. For example, if I were to board the tro-tro and say, “Aseda House,” – as my colleagues had instructed me to do – he would respond with, “40 peswas.”

On my first few trips, hailing a tro-tro felt like hyper-speed-dating. In my case, I stand on the side of the street and try to make contact with the tro-tro’s mate, who would be shouting out the tro-tro’s destination. If it’s heading for Adum, where I’m staying, I wave it down. If I can’t make out what the mate is calling out, I’d try to mouth my destination as clearly as I can so that the mate or the driver can make out what I am saying and decide whether or not to pick me up.

This whole exchange happens within the few seconds when the tro-tro is heading towards my general direction.

Once on board, I simply wait until the mate is ready to collect my fare. During the entire journey, he would be busy opening and closing the van’s door, jumping in and out of the van and calling out for passengers. Handing him a bunch of coins when he’s not ready to take them is not smart, as I’ve discovered.

There are no designated tro-tro stops either. On my first day taking the tro-tro to work, I simply approached a large group of people waiting by a street corner. The lady I spoke to confirmed that the place we were standing was a regular tro-tro stop.

Even though the whole process seemed chaotic to me at first, I’ve discovered that there is a system at work here. Fares were collected, people were getting to work and children to school. When the tro-tro that my colleague and I were in broke down, everyone automatically and quietly disembarked. Someone grumbled but no one threw up a fuss or demanded a refund. Everyone simply dispersed to look for another tro-tro or a taxi.

Ghana’s tro-tros may not be as smooth-running and organized as what I’m used to back home, but it gets people to and from places all the same, and at a far cheaper price too.

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