This blog post is in response to a comment posted by a reader who wants to know how the private transportation business is run in Ghana. I hope my research was exhaustive enough and satisfies other readers who might be interested in running their own trotro businesses as car-owners.
The trotro business is a tough game; it tries the owner’s patience, negotiation skills and street-smartness as he tries to get the best financial benefit and road-life out of the bus. The search for a trustworthy and experienced driver is one huge hurdle one has to surmount in this business. Identifying which route to ply one’s trade often lies in the hands of the owner but can also directly impacts the search for a driver, where the bus will ‘sleep’ after a day on the road among other things.
During a good stretch of time, daily sales (the money the trotro driver brings back after every day of work) comes in with no excuses of vehicular breakdowns. Sometimes the driver makes close to half of what they have to pay to their car-owners and is responsible for paying his mate and providing for his lunch.
Typically, when a car-owner is giving a ‘new’ car to a trotro driver, he fills the tank of the bus in order to give the driver a head start. It is normal that the trotro driver fills up the tank when quitting. But to avoid any disputes over how much fuel cost at the time the driver started working with the bus and when he finally quit, some car-owners expect that the trotro driver brings the bus back to their premises with fuel tank filled every evening.
A car-owner can and should institute a time for the bus to be brought back home for parking; 8pm is the usual set time. However, one should be highly tolerant of early morning calls, usually between 5am and 6am to hand over the car keys to the trotro driver to start the day. The early morning trips are good [money making hours] for the trotro drivers because the roads are much freer; please don’t mess with your trotro driver when it comes to releasing the keys.
For trotros in all cases but only in few cases for taxis, they are registered at a bus-station where the bus will be stationed, plying a specific route. It is often at the station that the owner is informed of the fixed market sales that that type of bus makes a day. The factors range from number of seats, whether the bus has air-conditioning, the [distance of the] route it plies and other on-board services like on-bus entertainment. The station is run by a union (under the umbrella of Ghana Private Road Transport Union GPRTU) and as such car-owners meet periodically.
Sundays are often the only days that most trotro drivers take some rest, other than those expect them to work on holidays (except Christmas) and weekends. At the end of the month, the car-owner pays the trotro driver a salary equivalent to 2 days sales and the cycle goes on.
But no, something’s got to give whenever things are going smoothly and that is often the genesis and root of most of the problems that car-owners have with trotro drivers and vice versa.
Out of the blue, the car-owner gets a call that the car is broken down at Kaneshie. Same call could have come from your driver at an accident scene; one he might be responsible for causing or not. And definitely it is normal in this line of business to have to go see one’s driver behind police cells/ counter-back or stand by him in a law court for some violation of traffic rules. It is all in the day of a trotro driver and the car-owner.
For relatively new buses, car-owner hardly anticipate a break in the sales until they get a call one day that the bus is broken down. But for old buses, a typical car-owner prays that whatever breaks down on the bus is nothing [major] that cannot be fixed in a day.
Usually after a rapid succession of break downs followed by massive spending eating into the trotro’s savings accounts, trotros begin to break down often. It is at this point that trotro drivers get the room to swindle their car-owners.
One trick is that the trotro driver works to about noon and then calls the car-owner that the bus is broken down or that since morning the car has been over-floating (an old excuse from back in the carburetor days) or overheating, torn exhaust pipe or some other mechanical fault as such business hasn’t been good so the trotro is undergoing repairs at the shop. What this implies is that the little money the trotro driver made till then will be used to pay for repairs and therefore there will be no sales for the day.
Some car-owners have been known to ask their drivers to repair buses with their own money and often do not pay the money back. Others have been accused of bullying the drivers by accusing them of being the cause of a mechanical problem or used the fact that the trotro driver would soon be poor if the bus is not on the road to coerce them to repair any faults.
What is hard for most car-owners is when they get calls of arrest of their trotro drivers after they are caught overloaded, jumping the red light or not observing some other road/ traffic rule in a zone where they don’t ply and not expected to be.
The trotro driver doesn’t mind overloading the bus to the point where the exhaust pipe scrapes the road. If given the chance to take the bus to their homes, they will [somehow manage to] work late into the night to make money for themselves whiles stressing the trotro’s engine. And don’t think it is beyond a trotro driver to give the bus to a colleague (spare driver) who probably has no valid license when they get tired during the day.
It takes more than money to run this business; it takes a hard-nosed business man with lots of understanding of how trotro drivers think and ever ready to bark instructions or threaten termination to run this business successfully.
But whiles the trotro driver tries to swindle his car-owner, the trotro mate also tries to pilfer from the fares that should go to the driver. There’s some justice in this trotro business after all.