Murtala Mohamed Kamara: 04 February 2024:
There has been a lot of excitement surrounding the introduction of 50 new public service buses under the Resilient Urban initiative, a collaboration between the World Bank and the Sierra Leone Government to address transportation needs in Freetown.
Last week, I had the opportunity to take a round trip on one of these buses from the Central Freetown Bus station to Calaba Town and back. Here are my thoughts.
The 50 buses were made by Ashok Leyland in India – a multinational company known for producing strong and reliable buses. There is no doubt about the credibility of the manufacturer.
However, I did notice some issues with the ticket sales system. The tickets are now being sold in the streets, and it appears that anyone can buy them in bulk and sell them individually. While this may increase accessibility, it also opens the door for counterfeit tickets being sold to unsuspecting passengers.
To address this, I suggest implementing a digital payment system such as Mobile Money or a transit payment card that can be loaded and swiped upon entering the bus. This would not only prevent ticket fraud but also provide a more convenient and efficient way for passengers to pay.
Additionally, it would be beneficial to have a website or an app where people can purchase tickets online. This would allow passengers to plan their journey and present their tickets in a QR code format for easy scanning by the conductor. Implementing contactless payment methods would also help in reducing corruption.
Another concern is the cleanliness of the buses. Trashcans (waste bins) should be installed in all the buses, and staff should be stationed at the bus stations to collect the trash after every round trip. This would help maintain a clean and comfortable environment for passengers.
The conductors should be required to wear uniform, such as a customized t-shirt representing the community managing the buses. They should also be well-groomed and treat passengers with professionalism and respect.
Although the buses have charging points, I did not feel that the air conditioning was working on any of them. It is unclear whether the buses have air conditioning or if the drivers choose to switch them off. This needs to be addressed to ensure a comfortable ride for passengers.
On a positive note, the PA system in the buses was in use, and the conductors were vigilant in ensuring that passengers had valid tickets.
To enhance passengers’ overall experience, installing free WiFi systems and real-time tracking on the buses would be beneficial. This would allow passengers to browse the internet after watching advertisements for a certain period.
The tracking system will allow passengers to track the arrival of the next bus to plan their schedules accordingly. One area I’d like to discuss further with management is providing wifi and tracking.
Considering the limited road infrastructure, it may be worth exploring the possibility of constructing special road corridors dedicated to buses in the future. In the meantime, efforts should be made to improve the bus stops and ensure that they are big enough to accommodate large numbers of passengers.
The current bus station in central Freetown must be upgraded. If the government does not have the funds for a complete facelift, it could consider partnering with the private sector to construct a building that includes transit areas, restaurants, toilet facilities, and shopping outlets. Renting out these spaces to private businesses would also generate additional revenue.
In conclusion, I encourage everyone to make good use of these buses and take care of them. Let’s remain vigilant and not allow anyone to damage or destroy them.