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Opinions Thu, 30 Nov 2006

Taxis, not their drivers, must be fitted with 'uniforms'

Information is the undergird of a free-market economy. With a rich set of information, producers and consumers in a market economy will make decisions that often result in an efficient allocation of resources. Put differently, goods and services will be delivered by the most competent producers at prices that benefit consumers because, with the right information, consumers will reward quality products with their wallets.

To illustrate, consider a commercial transport industry with two taxi companies: Kofi Taxi Inc and Adjoa Taxi Inc. Suppose further that the fleet of cars of these two companies are clearly marked, so that the public can identify each company’s vehicle. Then if consumers observe that Kofi Inc’s taxis make up a large fraction of vehicles involved in accidents (or disabled along roads), they will cease demanding the services of Kofi Taxi Inc. Over time, the taxi companies, in their quest to capture a larger share of the market for passengers, will “listen” to consumers and provide better services; including well-maintained fleet of taxis, running on good tires, and with well-trained drivers at the wheels. But to achieve this outcome, consumers must be able to identify taxis by the company that runs them. That means, “fitting each commercial vehicle with the logo/colors” of a company.


Now contrast this with the decision, taken by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and leaders of Accra’s transport unions, that will require all taxi-drivers in Accra to be out-fitted with sea-blue shirts and blue-black trousers, starting January 1, 2007. Seriously, how is this going to help the consumer trying to get to point A from B safely? What each of us care about when we board any commercial passenger vehicle is safety; our main concern is whether both the vehicle and its driver are good to be on the road. I have yet to see or hear of anyone escaped death from an accident only to say: “Damn; that was a terrible accident, and I am lucky to escape with only a broken leg. But, ooh, our driver looked so cute in that uniform.” Does a driver’s uniform matter? Even if passengers care about uniforms, is it the job of the AMA to be fitting drivers with such uniforms?


Obviously, AMA’s uniform code for drivers is motivated by the “Big 50” celebrations. I understand that the AMA wants to “leave a good taste in the mouth” of tourists who will visit Ghana in March 2007. But, given the dire state of road safety in Ghana, I would have thought that the AMA will use the series of meetings with transport union leaders to address a larger problem. Few weeks ago, Mr. Magnus Opare-Asamoah, Deputy Minister of Transportation, disclosed that about 11,000 people died from a 68,000 road traffic accidents between 2001 and 2005. That is about 7 deaths everyday! In addition, 84,472 people sustained various degrees of injuries. About a year ago, three prominent urologists lost their lives in a tragic accident. And last week, a University of California student on a study abroad program in Ghana died from a similar road-accident. This last bit has the potential of derailing efforts by university authorities who have worked hard, and continue to do so, to generate own revenue by attracting more international students to study in Ghana.


So what do we do? Many have called for a better test for drivers, a better check on the road-worthiness of vehicles, and better warning signs at dangerous turns on our roads. Sure, all these will help, but some require lots of resources and others need an attitudinal change, which occurs very slowly. But there is an effective tool which have not been tried: a better regulation of the commercial transport industry. This is not new, and it’s not my idea. In fact, all over the world, road accidents (as a percentage of total traffic) is lower when commercial transport is ran along company lines. It allows the public to choose to ride with the safest company, and consequently, each company will strive to provide the best service. Anyone remembers the days of relatively decent services from King of Kings Transport? Well, that’s because the buses were clearly marked.


So instead of wasting its time and resources enforcing a uniform-code starting January 2007, the AMA and other district councils, with assistance from the Ministry of Transportation, must :

Provide guidelines for individuals/firms to register transport companies. The key is not to licensed too many or too few companies; and should take into account the population of a region/locality and the number of commercial transport business currently operating. The number of firms is important, but over time an optimal number will emerge, due to free exit, and a relatively low cost of entry. Local transport unions, in particular, must be encouraged to apply.


The owners of all commercial vehicles must then be given up to 6 months to register with one of the transportation firms and have their vehicles clearly marked with the approved logo and colors. Firms will charge owners a fee to operate under the company’s name; but I am confidently that competition will drive this fee down. In return, these companies will provide some crucial services for drivers; for example, getting best-priced parts, contract with garages to provide on-schedule maintenance, etc.


More importantly, since a company’s reputation will be at stake, each will ensure that its fleet of cars are brought to a higher standard of roadworthiness before they sign them on. Heck, we may even see some display telephone numbers on its fleets of vehicles so that the public can call in to report any reckless driving, or any rude behavior on the part of the driver.


The above plan can be fine-tuned to create a well-functioning commercial transport industry that result in fewer road-traffic casualties. The thrust of this idea is to empower the market with information so it can regulate itself. In my mind’s ear, if this is implemented, I can hear a radio station say: “… this is the 3rd accident in a week involving one of Kofi Taxi Inc’s cars. So, folks, be careful where you put your money.” But alas, we continue to perish for lack of such knowledge.

Edward Kutsoati, Tufts University

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.


Columnist: Kutsoati, Edward