By Mohamed Juma Jalloh
Transportation challenges are nothing new in Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown. Scenes of both the young and elderly hassling to accessing public transportation is a daily occurrence, sometimes under the hot burning sun and under torrential rains. Since the re-opening of schools on the 5th October 2020, the plight faced by commuters in their quest to access the centre of Freetown has become a worrying call for concern.
During rush hours, in the morning, the Lumley Motor Park attracts a mammoth crowd but without a corresponding availability of public transportation. The unequal ratio of passengers to vehicles creates chaotic scenes that could lead to a potential stampede.
Police presence at the park is vital, but with the mad rush of people to access a vehicle, they are sometimes overwhelmed. A total of three police officers and a park Marshall are struggling to maintain order by way of preventing the confused dash of people whenever a vehicle appears. The queue begins at the entrance, forming a snake like posture that encircles the entire park. As people continue to troop in, the queue stretches from the motor park and diminishes in the fuel station at the Lumley round about.
Inspector Alie Matturi is a general duty police officer who is posted at the Lumley police station.
“I decided to leave my posting at the station in order to assist my colleagues to prevent people from interrupting the course of the queue,” Mr. Matturi revealed to nightwatch.
The avid desire to board a bus by many passengers could render the work of the police very herculean. As soon as a mini bus disembarks, People could be seen scuttling in desperation for entry, without exercising patience, to lawfully follow the course of the queue. The ugly situation attracts frustration from the point of view of passengers residing in and around the Lumley community.
Lumley is a strategic junction in the west end of Freetown. It has attracted population density in the intervening years following the end of the country`s civil war in 2002. It serves as the main rendezvous and the fastest route to accessing the Central Business District (CBD) by residents in Juba Hills, Goderich, Lakka and Hamilton communities.
Aminata Lahai is a nurse at the country`s main referral Connaught Hospital, situated in the CBD. She is supposed to report at 8am to relieve her colleagues who have spent the entire night on duty.
“Even after arriving as early as 6:30 am in the park, the shortage of Poda Podas can be a cause for unnecessary lateness for work,” Miss Lahai pointed out.
According to the nurse, she cannot contemplate riding a motorcycle or a tricycle because of its exorbitant fare charges, which could affect her financial stability. Aminata Lahai is one of the commuters whose access to the CBD has been impeded by the shortage of mini buses or Poda Podas as they are called in the local parlance.
The niche associated with city life in doing things with exigency has become time-consuming for some Lumley residents. It is no gainsaying that other people, whose quintessential services are indispensable to nation building, are becoming sluggish due to the shortage of transportation.
Alimamy Kamara is the Chairman of the Commercial Drivers’ Union in the Lumley motor park. He wasted no time to squarely place the problem on the reopening of schools. When quizzed about the availability of school buses, to transport pupils, Mr. Kamara said they are not enough to create an impact.
“During the school recess, some school buses were allocated for public transportation, but with the reopening of schools the buses are being utilised for their original purpose to serve pupils,” the chairman explained.
According to Mr. Kamara, government could only ameliorate the transportation hassle with the purchase of more buses that could accommodate more passengers. He added that most of the vehicles, that ply the east end of the city, are no longer wandering into the western end of the city due to the unbearable traffic congestion that has marred the western end. But a veteran driver of 35 years’ experience who calls himself “Delgado” has a different view.
“Most of the vehicles plying from Lumley to Regent Road/Circular Road have diverted their route from Goderich to Tokeh beach and No.2 River,” Delgado disclosed. According to Delgado, plying along the No.2 River is more lucrative because the cost of fare per passenger is Le2,500. He furthered that most of the drivers have recognised that plying that route consumes less fuel and is more profitable by the end of the day.
The National Traffic Coordinator (NTC) of the Sierra Leone Police, Thomas Dauda Conteh, pinpointed the root cause of the traffic congestion on the collapse of the Savage Street Bridge.
“The strategic importance of Savage Street, to the free flow of traffic in the west end of the city, should not be overemphasized. With the cut-off of that route, the congestion is heavily felt on other roads,” Mr. Conteh explained.
According to the NTC, he engages on a daily traffic monitoring to identifying bottle necks that stifle the free flow of traffic.
“In some instances, I remove obstacles to the traffic myself, or I issue out directives for my personnel to act,” the NTC said.
In the meantime, the SLP and the road traffic corps are facing an uphill task in sanitizing the traffic situation before the reconstruction of the Savage Street Bridge. Due to the strong political will, in rebuilding the bridge, a timeline of December 1st 2020 deadline is being set for the CRSG contractor to reopen the bridge for public use. The transportation hassle is only affecting the poverty afflicted who could not afford a private vehicle. Residents hailing from middle class homes and well to do families have private cars as part of family possessions.
Some residents, without vehicles, pride themselves on their pocket money and are ready to quintuple the price of public transportation to motorists in order to access the CBD. Because tricycles cannot trek across long distances, some passengers are too apprehensive to become a pillion on the back of a motorcycle because of the risk of road accidents.
The problem of ‘half ways’ that plagues the relationship between eastern drivers and passengers is rare in the west end of Freetown. Therefore government must accelerate efforts to implement the much trumpeted urban road mobility project and to further inundate the city with the procurement of more buses.