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RESTRICTION ON PASSENGERS LIFTED BUT…
Commercial vehicles plying the length and breadth of Sierra Leone returned to their normal seating capacity at the weekend following Government’s lifting of restriction on the number of passengers or commuters a commercial vehicle should carry.
The restriction posed on commercial vehicles was part of the President’s declaration of State of Public Health Emergency in July last year, when the outbreak of the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) intensified nationwide.
The usual seating capacities were reduced to at least one passenger for every seat in commercial vehicles as part of effecting the Public Health Emergency Regulations and other bye-laws to prevent the spread of the mysterious killer virus Ebola virus through body contacts.
Other activities such as public gatherings and social functions were minimized and controlled. This was not an easy venture and sacrifice to grapple with amongst vehicle owners and drivers, but Ebola being a national fight every Sierra Leonean had to take the extra-ordinary measures and sacrifice to see the EVD eradicated. Indeed, though the Ebola scourge has not ended, these ventures have helped immensely to reduce the infection rate in the country.
As Sierra Leone is now bumping in between the two digits and single digit since December 2014 to date, it signals hope and confidence that this devilish Ebola scourge is nearing its end.
The Government and National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) have already tagged the re-opening of schools and other institutions of learning for 30th March, 2015, and lifting the ban on seating capacities in vehicles is an added confidence building measure leading to the end of the EVD, despite the concentration of confirmed new cases now looms in the Western Area and Northern Region.
Amidst these new developments, the pump price for fuel in the country has also dropped form Le 4, 500 to Le 3, 750 per liter. Yet drivers are still reluctant to effectively ply the appropriate transport routing systems.
For over five years now, the Transport Ministry and its stakeholders routed commercial vehicles plying the capital and the provinces with inscription on their cabs showing their various destinations to and fro. This system was geared towards easing the struggles and scrambling of passengers on boarding vehicles to and from work or business places. It all started well for some time but later flawed with specific charged transport fares stipulated by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation ranging from Le 1000 for taxis from various points to another. Poda-Podas also charged Le 1000 to and from Calaba Town, Sackville Street or Eastern Police vicinity, to and from Lumley via Regent Road central of Freetown Le Le1000. The same fares go for the long buses that ply these routes carrying fifty or more passengers, while from Bombay Street to Allen Town, Jui, Grafton and Waterloo charged Le 1,300, Le1, 500 and Le 1,700 respectively. But due to the fact that drivers were reluctant to go strictly by the stipulated routing system, they started putting up the wrong attitude by posing difficulties in giving out the coin change to passengers. This most often resulted in frequent confusion amongst passengers, drivers and conductors or apprentice.
However, the Passenger Welfare Association in their right senses in the bid to avoid perpetual confusion on a daily basis and preventing drivers from running half way and two ways transport payments especially along the Grafton and Waterloo axis unanimously agreed with the public to forego their respective change to the drivers and apprentice. These measures have not still solved the problem of half way.
In fact, it has developed into another tactics that apprentice and drivers asked passengers their destinations despite the bold inscriptions on vehicles. They sometimes stand in the way of passengers who attempt to express their rights by entering the vehicle or ask out rudely. Worst still, they have instituted a two-way fare for front seats, which means if a passenger wants a front seat from Waterloo to Bombay Street or from Lumley to Regent Road in Central Freetown, the passenger is charged Le4000 and Le2000, respectively?
For the taxis, their usual language is two-way or two thousand Leones and even move for distances meant for Le 1000. Most often people pay because they want to get quickly to their destinations but what about the common man who cannot afford to pay?
The public demands help from the police, traffic wardens, Passenger Welfare Association and the Motor Drivers Union Taskforce to be assigned to the different destinations, but noting seems to be happening while people continue to suffer. Is it that these authorities concern are compromising these unpatriotic acts?
Do we hope to see changes with the reduction in fuel pump price with a robust enforcement of the law from the authorities concerned through Central Government intervention? We are also looking forward to the Attitudinal and Behavioral Change Secretariat to intervene with robust civic education backed by police special taskforce to be instituted, if possible, to see that drivers are committed to the rules of the game.