Archive for category trotro

The business of looking for business [literally]

I always thought the trotro transportation industry (if I can call it that) was mainly made up of the car-owners, drivers, drivers-mates and passengers.
But now that I think about it, I think the trotro transportation industry [to an extent] created the ‘kayayei’ and ‘kayahee’ – female and male porters [sub-industry].
It might be only me but I have observed that there is a need breed of male porters in town. They are more aggressive and carry good without using any wheeled contraption or aluminum container; the local porter’s tools of trade.
These porters risk limb and life to get business and they do beat competition to business always. Their competitive advantage in this trade is their ability and willingness to jump on the fender of buses and peek in the back of the bus where load is stowed; literally looking for business.

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Running a trotro business as a car-owner

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.

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Public Transport Hygiene

Passenger behind: ‘Boss, can you give the money to the mate for me?’

[You take money from passenger ‘A’ and hand it to mate. You do it for about three more passengers]

Passenger ‘B’ on your left: *cough* *cough* [rummaging for a handkerchief] ‘Oh sorry’

[You wipe a light spray of spittle or mucus or some other bodily fluid that landed on your left cheek after present passenger sneezes or coughs without covering their mouth]

Passenger ‘C’ on right: ‘chips seller, give me 50 pesewas worth of ripe plantain chips’ *starts eating chips without washing hands*

These are normal scenarios that occur more often than we take note of. They happen so often that we are not even bothered beyond the scowl at the inconvenience of the situation at the moment with little after-thought given to them; neither do we take any actions to remedy the health risks we were exposed to. What do we care that someone just coughed a dry-cough in the seat behind us? We’d sooner cover our noses when there is lot of dust ahead than when someone coughs or hawk phlegm. 

Airborne diseases and petty infections always come to mind whenever I think of trotros. All the passing of money from one hand to the other, people’s sweat rubbing on your shoulders, spray of spittle and cough in the air makes me think: Could I have picked up the flu/cold from another passenger on the trotro? How much do I expose myself to tuberculosis when I sit in a fully packed trotro? Am I exposing myself to cholera by drinking ‘pure’ water or buying home packaged food in traffic or eating with unwashed hands after a typical trotro ride? What about running my hands on the head-rest and other surfaces in the trotro? Is the trotro ever [thouroughly] cleaned and disinfected?

If you are not sure which way to answer, then you need to contemplate taking preventive action against them:

  1. Carry a handkerchief to cough or sneeze in. If everyone on a trotro follows this rule, a lot of airborne diseases can be prevented from spreading [or won’t be acquired].
  2. Carry hand sanitizer for all the handshakes, taking money and passing to mates etc. Wash your hands with soap when you get home.
  3. Be wary of the ‘pure’ water, plantain chips and other home-packed foods you buy [and eat] sitting on the trotro.

I believe the above actions are [reasonably] preventive against catching any bacteria or viruses on a trotro or in a public or (large-crowd-in-closed-space) setting.


Trivia: Did you know people who do not use the trotro regularly are more prone to catching infections on them?

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The Odorkor Trotro

I have always known this type bus as the Odorkor bus and it is pretty easy to understand why and how it is got that name. I will try to answer the why and how that name in no particular order and discuss if they are still relevant on the road.

You only find these buses stationed in Odorkor and ply only the Odorkor to Kaneshie and Odorkor to Kwame Nkrumah Circle routes. They are so specialized/predictable that you can jump on any one of them without thinking twice if your destination is anywhere between Circle/Kaneshie to Odorkor.
What you’ll find interesting about these buses is the fact that they’re never stopped by the police or MTTU (motor traffic and transport unit). Chances are you’re likely to find them ‘stopped’ by a mechanical fault than a police and if you have ever ridden on one you will wonder how they renew their road worthiness certificates. You can call them the most deadbeat buses in Accra or Ghana, save for the Korle Gonno bus (for another blog post) or the occasional village bus driven and maintained by the same person; its driver and mechanic.

Now to answer the why part; why Odorkor-bus? Because no one can be bothered to remember or pronounce or call them by their right names; the Willowbrook bus! You’ll occasionally find the name Willowbrook on the back or front of one of the Odorkor buses as proof of their brand name but count yourself lucky if the driver of same bus understands that you’re referring to his bus when you mention Willowbrook. Another Ghanaian moment! No love for long, tongue-twisting English words here!! No sir.

Did you know they are also called Space Buses? A name that represents the spacious alleys in these kind of buses than anything else. I hope this info makes it into the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy!

One thing I ask myself when I see them on the road is; are these buses still relevant? And sadly, I always come to the same one answer, Yes-and-No. Who am I to determine that? I am just a spectator and I think I can put forward an observation.

Arguments for Odorkor buses –

1. These buses are run like any government run public transport system; people are allowed to stand in them, so they carry lots of passengers during rush-hour.

2. They make so many stops between Odorkor and Kaneshie/Circle that there is no [long stretch of road] over-speeding.

3. They are less likely to be involved in accidents mainly because of Point 2 above and also because they have very weak engines which cannot top 100km/h as a general rule.

Arguments against Odorkor buses –

1. These buses are the most unsightly to ply some of the busiest routes in the capital; they definitely take away from the beauty of Accra.

2. These buses smoke the most and pose the most health hazard to passengers and other road users.

3.They slow down traffic considerably because they stop at every conceivable junction and travel at very slow speeds.

the 'homemade' dashboard of a willowbrook bus

Whiles they are most likely to have poor lights, no working wipers and bad brakes it still confounds me how they have road worthy certificates.

Can the government or private sector invest in better, safer buses that will replace these Odorkor buses? Maybe that is all they are waiting for; a new generation of better and safer public transport buses to continue the tradition that Willowbrook buses have maintained all these years.

Till then, whenever I hear the mate of an Odorkor bus shout for passengers, all I hear is ‘passenger beware’.

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Of fuel hikes, trotro fares and fights arising

Fuel price increments are a thing for governments with brass balls. It is the fastest way to lose votes and the love of their most ardent of supporters. However, after subsidizing fuel prices for some time, every government will throw caution to the wind and increase prices; nothing they can do about it. Please don’t blame us, blame OPEC.

But hate the government or the energy minister but I choose to hate the trotro rides days after the fuel hikes.

Typically 3 things happen whenever price of oil products (petrol, diesel, LPG) are raised.

1. Trotro drivers increase prices by 10GHp or 5GHp

2. Passengers resolve to not pay any extra prices until the official percentage of increment is announced by the MTTU or some other authority in charge of fixing those prices

3. Trotro drivers & mates fight with passengers until a price is agreed on, often a percentage higher than the approved one.

So this is how it usually goes in the days after increase in fuel prices are announced and I will set some scenarios and view points of the parties involved.

“Just yesterday the fare was 40pesewas, now you’re charging 50pesewas, I won’t pay” – Passenger 1

“If you won’t pay, get down, someone else will pay” – Mate

“You must be kidding me, I’m not getting down, now or ever. 40pesewas is the price as of today and I’m not paying more than that” – Passenger 1

At this point the driver is agitated and threatens to not move the car, he even kills the engine and takes out the key and call to his mate.

“Don’t mind them, we’re not going any further. [driver to mate] You guys can get down if you won’t pay 50pesewas. Did it cross your mind that the filling stations have already increased their prices? The car-owner will be increasing his sales soon and you’re here saying what you want” – Driver

“We won’t get down” – Passenger 1 & 2 and a few others

After a few passengers have gotten off the bus, the driver comes back to sit to find some bellicose passengers still fuming in the bus.

“You better move because 40pesewas is all we will pay” – Passenger 1

“Oh shut up! don’t you want to go home? Maybe you don’t have kids waiting for you to or a husband to cook supper for. Please let the driver move the trotro” – Passenger 3

“You are the people who let these drivers get away with high prices. The fact that we can afford 50pesewas doesn’t mean it is right for us to pay that fare” – Passenger 1

After a while consensus is reached by the majority of passengers out of a necessity to get to destination on time etc. and the more vocal passengers plead and assure the driver that they’ll pay 50pesewas. It is only then that the driver grudgingly moves the trotro, all the while complaining to whoever is within earshot about how trotro drivers suffer to make enough money to give to their car owners on a daily basis.

So when the bus is finally full and on its way, with fares taken from passengers with little or no fights the driver shares some insight into how hikes in fuel prices affect everything and why it is fair to pass it on to the passengers.

“When fuel prices go up, prices of everything go up as well. Spare parts dealers increase their prices and in this business you know that half of our money goes back into purchasing spare parts.”

“The foodstuffs coming from the village will all be expensive now because the traders will pass on the cost and the kenkey seller will also increase her prices or reduce the size of the kenkey balls. How do you expect us to survive if we can’t increase prices of fares? Do you fight with the food stuffs trader over her prices when you go to the market?”

Good set of questions that gets anyone listening to either keep quiet or nod agreeably and think, why don’t I fight with the trader for selling me 4 fingers of plantain for 1 Ghana cedis?

A day or 2 later, the authority in charge of regulating trotro prices comes out with a percentage increment of about 10%, which means that the new fare should be 44pesewas or 45pesewas (denominational constraint) instead of 50pesewas.

But by that time 50pesewas has been fought over and agreed on between passengers and drivers and their mates and people quickly want to forget the experience and get on with their lives.

Occasionally when a Smart-Alec of a passenger raises the fact that 50pesewas represents more than 10% or is 25% of the previous fare, the driver will give him another sad speech about… “how does the government want us to survive when fuel prices have been increased by 18% and then expect us to only increase fares by 10%? Don’t forget that as soon as fuel prices are increased, prices of food stuffs, used-clothing are all increased and soon general prices levels go up by 18%”.

Now that is street-maths-logic you don’t want to argue against. Because you want to live to fight another fare increment.

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Push small or join another bus or wait for the mate to get diesel

Did you ever sit in a trotro at the station that took forever to get full? How about sitting in a trotro with just one passenger left to get full? [begin picturing a hot day, dusty station and a mate who doesn’t stop shouting (as if that ever bring passengers any faster)]. Suddenly, two friends or a couple or siblings appear from nowhere to join the bus? “Aha! Finally, the bus can leave the station”, you’re thinking. But no, these 2 passengers either go together or join the next bus in line.

“Sorry, we can’t overload today because the police have set up a check-point on the road” intones the mate [who is chatting with a ‘pure-water’ seller or orange seller at the station] stopping the 2 passengers from getting on board and answering your question even before it you give it voice.

When passengers were needed in pairs and threes to fill up the bus none was coming and after bearing all the heat and pungent odours and the trickling in of passengers up to the point where only 1 passenger was needed to fill up the bus, two people turn up.

At this point everyone would beg for the driver to consider overloading the bus. And a few mischievous minds are even thinking of suggesting to the driver to drop a passenger who isn’t going all-the-way to the last-stop in favour of these 2 passengers.

Finally someone calls out to the mate, “Mate, call the driver and let’s go, I’ll pay for the extra seat”

Everyone heaves a sigh of relief but most passengers who could afford to pay for 2 feel somewhat embarrassed for not coming up the idea.

After a couple of attempts to start the bus, the engine finally catches and glorious fresh air gets into the bus as it pulls away from the station. Passengers wipe beaded sweat [collected as a result of the heat in the parked bus and the nervous seconds when the bus wouldn’t start] off their foreheads and lean in their seats for a nice ride.

Ten minutes into the ride, the bus stutters and looks of concern shows on everyone’s face. The jerky motion of the bus wakes the few passengers who’d managed to doze off after the bus hit the tarred road.

The driver pulls over and the mate gets down and confers with the driver. Apparently the fuel is run out.

The mate sticks his head through the doorway and presents the passengers with 3 options: A pick-your-poison moment!

1. Let’s push the bus to the next filling station OR

2. You can wait till a bus passes by so you can join OR

3. You can wait for the mate to beg for a gallon to get diesel from the next filling station.

What a bad trotro day!

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TroTro – The Economics of it all / Trotro Economix

Whenever I go to the trotro station, or join one by the road side or even struggle to get one, my mind quickly goes back to some of my economics classes and I begin to understand the trotro driver better.

This post seeks to make the point that trotros operate in a market economy as well as a monopolistic economy and I will give scenarios to support that assertion and maybe we will all begin to understand how the trotro driver operates.

Every passenger is important to the trotro driver or otherwise, depending on the scenario and trotro drivers operate in ways to maximize their fare by filling filling their bus on every trip in order to make a decent ‘sale’ at the end of the day.

Competitive Market – Trotro driver A is competing against all other trotro drivers plying the Kaneshie to Mallam route. Ergo, he’ll doodle and stop at every point on the road to pick every and any passenger [load bearing kind or slow-to-walk-to-the-bus kind] till the bus is full. In this market, there are many passengers and many trotros that one passenger/trotro doesnot make a difference.

Monopolistic Market – Trotro driver A is the only trotro plying Kaneshie to Mallam route. Before the bus leaves its destination, chances are it is full. If it is not full from origin, then you’re in luck to be by the roadside when it is passing. And you best be animated in flagging the driver or better be standing at a point he can reasonably/ safely stop to pick you up or the driver will just ignore you and pick the next passenger. In this market, there are many passengers and very few trotros that one trotro can make a HUGE difference.

Oligopolistic Market – Trotro driver A is competing against all the other trotro drivers plying the Kaneshie to Mallam route but you’re one of the only few passengers at the station or by the road side. (Very unlikely market for trotro business) You wish!

Having laid the basic foundation of markets [in an Economics sense], holding pricing constant (for trotros)…let us look at scenarios during different times of the day, different weather conditions, location and throw in taxis just to jazz the discussion up a bit.


Rush Hour (at the trotro station) – Competitive Market – Trotro drivers are assured of a sturdy stream of passengers and passengers are reasonably assured that a trotro will come around to pick them up.

Rush Hour (taxi) – Monopolistic Market – Sorry to say but taxis are a hot commodity any time of the day but especially so at rush hour, morning and evening. They quote a price, you pay up and get on board or they ride away as if they run on air and don’t even need your money. If you have an emergency, please dig into your emergency stash of money because you’ll have to pay through the nose.

Midday (at the trotro station) – ‘Perfect'(pun intended) Competitive Market – Read this blog post!

Midday (by the road side) – Oligopolistic Market – You’re a prized passenger, trotros will honk at the sight of you and you can afford to stroll to the bus, heck, you can decide not to join the rickety bus after taking a peek at the inside. It is payback time for all that trotro drivers ever did to you.

Rainy day (at the trotro station) – Competitive Market – Be grateful you’ve got roof over your head or you can read {Raining in the trotro?}

Rainy day (by the road side) – Monopolistic Market – You didn’t anticipate the rain, neither did your friend warn you, even the radio didn’t mention it. You count yourself lucky if a passing trotro or taxi doesn’t splash mud on you, or you get a trotro mate who’ll pick a fare at the risk of getting a little wet. Be ready to pay through the nose (again?) to get a taxi to take you to your destination.

Note: If you find yourself in a busy district then you’re automatically in a Competitive Market and the opposite is true!!

So you see, in real life nothing is really one thing or the other….everything has in its nature to be a little big of this and that with varying degree depending on certain conditions.

End of Trotro Economix!!

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