By Allieu S. Tunkara
Bombay Lorry Park at Fourah Bay Community in central Freetown has been boycotted for days by Waterloo drivers, leaving commuters stranded.
The park is the final destination for Waterloo drivers and commuters plying the route daily.
Most, if not all, commuters ply the route to Freetown on business purposes: to purchase wholesale stock for retail trade in Waterloo while some are officers attached to various government agencies in Freetown.
It is easy most times to get a vehicle from Waterloo to Freetown, but extremely difficult to get one from Freetown to Waterloo markedly in the evening.
As the euphoria of the Christmas day gathers pace at every tick of the clock, Waterloo drivers almost always stop at various entry points along Fourah Bay Road where passengers alight.
They would immediately return to Waterloo picking up commuters at half way destination points.
The boycott of Bombay Lorry Park by Waterloo drivers could be attributed directly to the robust traffic duties embarked upon by the drivers’ union Marshalls.
The Marshals are at the park to stop Waterloo drivers leaving passengers heading for Waterloo and also ensure that passengers are taken to their right destinations.
Drivers, for a lengthy period, have developed and maintained a high preference for passengers alighting at half-ways.
The rush-hours between 6pm and 7pm are notably periods of profiteering for Waterloo drivers as varying levels of transport fares are demanded from various commuters.
Waterloo passengers are thus second fiddle to half-way passengers who can swiftly dance to the tune of drivers.
Women traders with large stock of goods during rush-hour are abandoned at the mercy of thieves, notably festive periods, as they remain at the park for hours.
Isatu Mansaray is a Waterloo businesswoman who plies the route from Waterloo to Freetown daily.
She deals in assorted goods. Bombay Lorry Park is her usual landing place from Waterloo to Freetown and her springboard from Freetown to Waterloo.
She confirmed that it was extremely difficult to catch a vehicle from Bombay Lorry Park heading for Waterloo during festive periods, especially Christmas seasons.
“I have been at this park for over an hour and got no vehicle to take me and my luggage to Waterloo,” she complained.
The difficulty to get a vehicle, Isatu continued, is a perennial problem in the country, but it was more of a problem during occasions like Christmas and other holidays.
“Considering the transport situation in Freetown especially at Bombay Park, I should cancel my Waterloo-Freetown travels for now,” she promised.
Another commuter in the queue at an entry point along Fourah Bay Road apparently an old man in his late 70s seemed disgusted with the transport situation in Freetown.
He said he had been in the queue for several hours waiting for a vehicle to convey him to his destination.
“After several hours in the queue, no vehicle is forthcoming to take me along,” he said.
The old man added that the attitude of drivers was creating transport difficulty in the country.
It is incontrovertible that this year’s Christmas is in a class of its own, known for its dullness and boring nature as complained by great many men in the street.
But its boringness has not staved off the influx of people in the city streets as points of sales and business transactions are notable flash points.
Those from the provinces, as usual, are in the city to look for goods sold at auction with particular preference for imported ones commonly referred to as ‘barrel stock.’
This ephemeral rural-urban migration embarked upon by up-country men to tap into the city largesse, swells an already exploded population.
The heavy presence of people in Freetown is seen as a fertile ground for exploitation of passengers by drivers compounded by the awareness of vehicle owners that the transport service commands an inelastic demand as travelling from one place to another is a must.
Momodu Koroma is the Vice President of the Motor Drivers and General Transport Workers’ Union (MDGTWU) which regulates the transport activities of divers countrywide.
In a recent interview, Koroma confirmed that the half-way system was very much prevalent in the city in which Waterloo drivers are key participants.
“Drivers of mini-bus vehicles plying Waterloo and Freetown are well known for the half-way system.
The act is very much dangerous for commuters heading for distant places,” he noted.
The Union’s Vice President assured that his organization would collaborate with the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority and the Sierra Leone Police to stem the tide of passengers’ exploitation by drivers.
“Several meetings have been held and decisions have been taken to rectify the situation in the city,” he further assured.
As a result of such meetings, he pointed out, traffic Marshalls have been deployed at various points to back police officers in the execution of traffic duties.
It cannot be ruled out that Waterloo drivers are averse to the continued presence of traffic Marshalls at Bombay Lorry Park to checkmate their excesses.
Their presence has frequently generated quarrels and scuffles between what looks like two opposing sides.
The former always want to embark on exploitative tendencies to profiteer while the latter is inclined to ensuring that the law is complied with.
A driver in charge of a mini bus vehicle plying between Freetown and Waterloo recounted his encounter with one of the traffic Marshalls who, he said, insulted and nearly assaulted.
He said the scuffle was a direct consequence of the Marshall’s insistence that he should allow only Waterloo passengers in his vehicle.
Sierra Leone’s transport sector is largely a private sector-led investment.
Government’s participation into the investment is minute and almost infinitesimal.
It is restricted to only regulating the sector by way of registering and issuance of licences to ensure a smooth trade.
The purchase of vehicles and fixing of transport fares for passengers is the exclusive right of vehicle owners.
The Road Transport Corporation is a quasi-government institution that operates a public transport system at a reduced cost.
The Corporation prides itself with 100 buses procured by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation.
The procurement of another 50 school buses, few months back, under the free quality education scheme adds to the existing number of buses, all geared towards easing the transport problem.
But the procurement has not solved the transport problem in the country as the transport demand in the nation’s capital still remains insatiable.
The influx of migrants deepens the transport crisis. Authorities scratch their heads to normalize an already polarized situation, but lasting solutions are yet to be discovered.
Commuters remain on the wrong end of the exploitative cycle for which successive administrations have been castigated by the public.
The Sierra Leone Transport situation thus calls for a complete overhaul to be carried out concurrently with a decongestion project.
By Allieu S. Tunkara