In the busy street of Kissy Road, in the east of Freetown, vehicles and motorcycles are at a standstill for several minutes. They have been in a long queue. Even those moving do so at a slow pace. Drivers and passengers trapped in this queue express their frustrations in different forms. Some drivers resort to the use of invectives against their follow drivers and other sound their sirens – especially ambulances and fire force vehicles. These situations combine to create an atmosphere of nuisance and disorder.
The perennial traffic congestion at Kissy Road is an epitome for other streets that are being congested by vehicles and motorcycles.
Fourah Bay Road, Abacha Street and Goderich Streets, among others, are among those worst affected by the traffic congestion. The situation is worsened by traders who display their commodities at sidewalks and pavements. Hawkers of various commodities also add insults to some major streets in the west end of Freetown, which are steadily being congested by vehicles as well as motorcycles save few streets. Traders or various goods have penetrated the once serene street.
Recently, the coming of the tricycles, commonly known in the Krio parlance as ‘Keke,’ though relevant to the transport sector, has played a part in traffic congestion. The ‘Keke’ tricycles have grown in popularity so much that they are now the ‘preferred choice’ to taxis.
This preference could not be unconnected to its reasonable transport fare considering the distance they cover. The demand for these tricycles is growing almost in controllably. The demand for them necessitates their high impact to Sierra Leone from other countries thus lending credence to the economic principle or high demand high supply. It is being estimated that the number of Keke tricycles would soon outnumber taxi and ‘poda poda’ vehicles.THE IMPACT OF TRAFFIC CONGESTION
Traffic congestion has created negative impact, which has been latent for years. The effect emanating from traffic congestion is not visible as it lacks numeric quantification. However, it badly affects various sectors of the economy, which ultimately leads to the underdevelopment of the country.
The immediate impact of traffic congestion is anchored on the public service sector of the economy. It is usual for public service providers to arrive late for duty owing to slow traffic. Lateness reduces productivity in the public service sector.
A public service provider, who prefers to remain unnamed, explains to the nightwatch that he almost always reports late for duty owing to traffic congestion. As he reports late for duty, he always incurs his superior’s wrath and sometimes queried letters.
He says he is not happy with situation as lateness has the tendency to affect his promotion chances. “This situation is very much embarrassing for me,” he complained.
The traffic congestion effect does not only affect public service providers but also commuters who visit the central business district to transact business for their livelihoods. They almost spend the rest of the day on the road. Others park their vehicles and walk to their destinations. They carry their personal effects with them as they cover long distances. Having bought their goods, most times, food and other condiments, reforming home is cumbersome. Vehicles are hard to come by especially during the evening rush hour period. Commuters, especially from Allen Town, Jui and Waterloo, trek from various market centres to Waterloo Lorry Park at Bombay, another highly congestion area. They spend lengthy hours in queues waiting for vehicles to convey them. Their troubles worsen as Waterloo drivers prefer passengers who drop half-way at Shell, Congo Water and Wellington, among others.
“This situation has created much suffering for us,” Wara, a business woman at Bombay Street, complained.
This unpleasant situation has placed drivers on the side of undue advantage, especially taxi-drivers. Being jittery of traffic congestion, taxi drivers could not ply everywhere in the city. Instead, they ply short distances and demand exorbitant money from passengers. It has become a usual practice among drivers to demand ‘two-way’ or ‘three-way’ transport fare, which means a passenger pays double or triple the actual amount he was supposed to pay. This is another form of petty exploitation in the transport sector.
Though drivers indulge into this petty exploitation of passengers to make up for the day, they (drivers) end up venting out their frustrations. They always narrate negative stories about the transport sectors as the finances they garner are not enough for them and their families.
They always relate the income they generated to the current cost of living in the country.
Mohamed Fornah has been a driver since 1983. He is still in the trade because driving is the only skill he knows. Fornah tells Nightwatch that driving in the city is not an easy ride. He admits that drivers charge for two or three-way transport fare on passengers to make ends meet.
Traffic congestion leads to minor accident situations including damage of driving mirrors, tail boards and other parts of the vehicle. As vehicles are trapped in long queues, commercial motorists, known as Okada riders, are not patient enough. They squeeze their way along the mirror space left by vehicles to navigate their way quickly.
In the process, these commercial motorists hit vehicles from the rear and damage their tail boards, damage their driving mirrors and cause minor scratches on sides or vehicles. This situation creates tension between commercial motorists and drivers. Similarly, conflicts also often arise between and among commercial motorists.
Scenes of these transport workers being at each other’s throat is not casual, sometimes members of the public have to come in to restore peace during conflict situations.
POLICY IMPLICATIONS ON TRAFFIC CONGESTION
Though police personnel and traffic wardens are deployed at strategic locations to regulate vehicular and pedestrian traffic, fast movement of traffic is still a challenge. These officers have ended the heat of the day and torrential downpour to normalise the traffic situation by charging drivers with various traffic offences. Traffic wardens have distributed tickets to drivers as a punitive measure, especially those who obstruct the free flow of traffic but little result have been realized.
Against this backdrop, the government, through the Ministry of Works and the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA), must embark on a four lane policy in some major streets in the city. Also, potential house owners must be constantly reminded of the right of way so that they keep their houses several metres away from the street. This will facilitate any road expansionist effort on the part of government and the problem of demolition of houses will be history.
It is well known that a four-lane policy for most major streets in the city is a capital intensive project. But it is strictly necessary because a nation that depends on wheels need good highways for ease of traffic.