Posts Tagged mate

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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A Culture of Insults?


Growing up was fun and sometimes difficult because I couldn’t get away with much. There was no way I could insult a playmate without getting a scolding from a passing adult. There was no way I was going to see or hear an insult on TV or in a movie. There were fewer television programs back then.

I still remember Aku Shika as one of my favourite Ghanaian movies. The movie producers made up for their poor equipment by producing educative, funny and generally better movies. The ever popular Sunday evening Osofo Dadzi was not popular because it was the ‘only’ show but because it remained innovative, comic and stayed true to its moral themes.

This post was inspired by Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood and an observation made by Graham.

Things have definitely changed.

 

It is not now as it hath been of yore;—

Turn wheresoe’er I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.


Are we slowly descending into a Culture of Insults? I think we are! And I’m not even talking about politicians here. I’m talking about the many insults trotro drivers and taxi drivers hurl at each other and other road users. I am talking about the local Ghanaian language movies that sell for cheap and find their way into our homes and broadcast to our television sets. I am talking about all the insults we are taking in and likely to give back after they have festered and can’t be suppressed any longer.

If there is something I hate about public transportation, it is that trotro drivers and their mates insult just about everyone they encounter in the line of duty.

– How many times haven’t trotro drivers honked at and insulted private drivers who are waiting ahead of them at a traffic light? [moments before the light turns green].

– How many times haven’t trotro drivers overtaken and insulted private drivers who [have made the conscious effort to] respect the speed limit, road signs and the zebra-crossing

– I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a trotro driver insult a private driver or a pedestrian just for the sake of it; calling a private driver ‘a privileged *insert expletive*’ is so commonplace that some passengers in these buses laugh or throw in their insults for good measure.

I can’t stand insults in Ghanaian movies, especially those that are meant to incite laughter . Why can’t Agya Koo, Judas and Kyewaa say or do something funny or say something witty?

– Casting my mind back to Kwaw Ansah’s Love Brewed in the African Pot, I wonder where all the smart people in the Ghanaian movie industry went. Can’t we simply produce a comic moment that will be as memorable as the closing scene of the #LBitAP any longer? Without resorting to insults?

– Unless I’m wrong, everyone of these movies is supposed to carry a socio-cultural message. You can check their titles or watch how in the end the good always triumphs over the evil, how Ghanaian traditions are upheld and portrayed in all of its splendour. [the typical Ghanaian storyline]. However, what the audience take from these movies are the many insults. The chain of insults can be heard playing on people’s cell phones and the latest of them are actually discussed.

– You find adults laughing when they hear kids throwing these same insults around because they happen to be quoting Agya Koo or Kyewaa. (And before you think that you don’t fall in this category, remember that ‘this category’ happens to be the majority of the Ghanaian population).

Don’t tolerate this creeping phenomenon. Don’t let us stand by while Ghana descends into a culture of insults.

Reproach a kid you see insulting another kid because that is the Ghanaian thing to do. And, remind an adult to watch his/her language [if the circumstances permit] because that is the Ghanaian thing to do.

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Raining in the trotro?


Just a trotro twist of things this Friday. A Rainy Friday in Accra means a muddy Friday!

The rain started pouring as soon as I got inside the trotro. [Grateful]

Fresh air gets in the bus and in my face and I’m all ready to enjoy a nice trotro ride at a time of the day when it could have been a hot and sticky ride. [Grateful]

The rain is getting in the bus, the passengers by the windows are quickly shutting the windows.

SUDDENLY EVERYTHING CHANGES

Slowly it gets hot in the bus and there is no chance of the passengers by window opening it a crack because the rain is really pouring at this point. [wishing I was home]

Suddenly one passenger makes a sound, drawing everyone’s attention…drops of water were collecting on the ceiling of the bus and dripping on her…wetting her by the drop. Before long drops have collected on all sagging parts of the ceiling.

People are getting beat by the rain in a bus? Of all places to be beaten by the rain.

Everyone is calling for the mate’s duster (trotro-speak) at this point.

Just when I thought I was one of the few lucky ones, a drop landed on my hand. [wishing I was home x10].

It was literally raining in the trotro at this point…everyone was repositioning themselves to prevent getting wet.

[The passengers were pelting the driver and his mate with questions and they were fielding them as they came, trying to lighten up the mood by blaming the greedy car-owner who doesn’t care]

The rain had stopped by the time I got down. Lucky me!!

Freedom from the heat (and odours)at last; welcome fresh, clean air.

First, it was raining in the trotro and now I have to trudge mud all the way home.

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“Driver drop me, driver drop me!”


I don’t know why I haven’t written this loooonnng ago? Come to think of it I got the moxie to do this Trotro Drama blog after witnessing this incident.

After queuing for what seemed like forever at the 37 station to catch a bus home and sitting through one of the worst traffic jams in this part of the Sahara, my ever wandering mind couldn’t resist coming up the next bad scenario to cap it all.

—what if this bus starts overheating? or the clutch burned?

—what if the engine died and the bus has to be pushed?

All the above were possibilities if you’ve had some experience with trotros and the conditions were right; grinding bumper to bumper traffic tend to expose these weak vehicles.

Thankfully non of these things happened, actually, my luck got better. I got a private show of sorts.

This dude sitting next to me has been sleeping all through the trip and suddenly roused, looking out of the bus bewilderingly in search of a landmark to orient himself. Squinting hard but still unsuccessfully he called out to the mate sitting 45 degrees behind him and this conversation ensued:

Passenger: Mate! Mate! are we at Achimota yet?

Mate: We pass Achimota

Passenger: Didn’t I tell you I’ll drop off at Achimota? You took Achimota fare and you forgot to tell me when we got to Achimota

Mate: Why you blame me? [aside] He want insult me and if I insult am some, he go say mate people be bad

Passenger: Because it is your job

Mate: You pay only transportation, now you dey bed, why me I no sabey sleep some?

[This exchange happened within a space of a minute] [I’m smiling to myself all through the exchange]

I could hear the passenger’s mind ticking in contemplation of whether to get off at Lapaz or midway.

THEN

The passenger blurts out “DRIVER DROP ME, DRIVER DROP ME” [drawing everyone’s attention as the driver pulls over]

He mutters and shakes his head as he gets down, “Can’t people sleep on the bus anymore?”

[All the passengers burst into laughter]

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Things TroTro drivers do – madness on the roads


I was sorting my pictures and videos recently and found this interesting video. I decided to post the video on YouTube

There is not much of a story to this video; I took the shot from my perch in the bus and missed much of the action but I’m sure the video still captures the action fairly.

A bus reversed into on-coming traffic, bumped into the bus I was on, the offending driver did a half-hearted apology to my driver and as in the video, his conductor(Ghana’s equivalent of a mate) got down to bark instructions to help his driver execute this dangerous maneuver. Needless to say, the driver got away with it and my friend/guide made me understand that ‘this is normal, no one wants to sit in a hold-up’.

How is this picture for the Ghanaian equivalent?

This driver simply decided to drive into the on-coming traffic because his lane was jammed. This time I had enough time to take out my camera(with an exaggerated gesture which drew comments/commendation from other passengers and triggered a barrage of insults aimed at the driver).

Am I so unlucky to find myself in these life-threatening traffic situations?

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