The long-awaited bus rapid transit (BRT) system came alive in Accra yesterday when a number of commuters were given free ride on the bus service from Amasaman through the Kwame Nkrumah Circle to Tudu.
Commuters who patronised the service said to be on a pilot scale for five days, were excited as they boarded the buses at some points and got down at their destinations.
The full-scale implementation of the project is expected to take place later in November, 2016.
The BRT is under the Urban Transport Project (UTP) of the Ministry of Roads and Highways. It is jointly funded by the World Bank, the Agence Francaise de Development (AFD), the government of Ghana and the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund at a cost of $95 million and is being implemented by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Ministry of Roads and Highways and the Department of Urban Roads (DUR).
Processes towards the implementation of the BRT were started in 2007. Between 2008 and 2009, it faced many difficulties, key among them being stiff resistance from private transport operators.
Early on, the DUR had planned implementing an advanced type of BRT on the Accra-Mallam-Kasoa corridor.
That move resulted in the construction of a flyover across the railway line on the Graphic Road in Accra.
Explaining the workings of the system, an official on one of the buses who did not want to be identified said commuters would be provided with e-cards that would be pre-loaded with cash to enable them to access the service.
The cards, once procured, could be used on all buses in the fleet. Ticketing booths are being provided along the routes where the buses would be stopping to pick up passengers.
In the air-conditioned buses, there are facilities to validate the e-cards, their authenticity and whether commuters have paid the required fare.
Once validated, access is granted for one to enter the inner perimeter of the bus, but on exiting, a commuter has to de-validate the card before disembarking.
For this reason, entry onto the bus can only be done from the driver’s side of the bus, while exit can only be done through the rear.
One other feature of the buses is their disability-friendliness, evident in a panel that is lowered down to enable a disabled person to board the bus.
Another interesting thing about the boarding process for a physically-challenged person, is the provision of mechanisms on the buses that allow the buses to tilt to the side to enable persons to board without any hassle.
What is not enthusing, however, is that only one physically-challenged person can board a bus at any point in time and what that means is that if there are more than one physically-challenged person at a bus stop, the rest would have to wait for successive buses to come in order to have their turn.
The buses have installed CCTV cameras in front to help the drivers to watch and monitor activities on the buses.
Also, they are equipped with charging ports where commuters can charge their mobile phones and other portable devices while aboard the buses.
Waste baskets have been provided on the buses as part of efforts to control the indiscriminate disposal of waste on the streets as well as in the buses.
Contrary to the expectation of traders and market women that the buses would provide spaces to cart their wares, the space provided on board the bus would be used to cart only refined luggage and not items such as fish, food items and products that are not well packaged.
One feature aimed at the timely provision of information to drivers regarding the traffic situation in the city is that there will be constant monitoring from a central control room from where information will be relayed to the drivers as to what to expect at their next stop.
Ideally, it is expected that travelling on the bus will reduce travelling time from 15 minutes to nine minutes.
It was observed that work was on-going on some of the bus stops while those that had been completed were being used by other road users.
While commuters generally described the system as a good initiative, some commuters asked why the government had rush in starting the service and not wait for the infrastructure to be completed for a smooth take-off of the project.
Inadequate public information
On patronage of the free ride service on the first day of the exercise, the Graphic observed that it was low.
That, according to commuters, was because there was inadequate information in the public domain regarding the exercise.
Ms Elizabeth Asiedu, a resident of Dome who boarded the bus from the Central Business District of Accra, said she was excited that the bus provided ample space for commuters to feel comfortable but decried the relatively smaller space allocated for luggage.
Michael Oti, a mechanic, was of the view that the panel that was lowered to enable the disabled to board the bus should have been automated, rather than the manual system where a bus conductor had to lower it.
All these concerns notwithstanding, some hawkers took advantage of the exercise to sell their goods as a some women and other vendors were seen selling at the various bus stops.
The BRT system is expected to bring the public greater options and flexibility in road transport.
The improved transportation system is supported with some 116 buses designed to allow for easy access by physically-challenged persons.
Source: radioxyzonline.com/with additional files from graphic