Traditional taxi drivers in two of Ghanaâ€™s robust economic capitals, Accra and Tamale, capital of the Northern Region, face an identical challenge, which may soon see them driven into extinction.
This challenge is not about the plateauing cost of fuel or the rising costs of spare parts, but the emergence of stiff unanticipated competition, which has seen many of them howl for help.
In Accra, international taxi service provider, Uber, is the main headache of commercial taxi motorists, who claim they are gradually losing their source of income, since the introduction of Uber in Ghana in 2016.
According to these traditional taxi drivers, they are increasingly relinquishing their passengers to their internet -supported colleagues on the Uber platform, and are therefore calling for something to be done about it. They claim the Uber Drivers, are given preferential treatment by city authorities as they do not pay any levies, especially to the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA).
That is not true, says Uber General Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Alon Lits, explaining their operations to the Daily Express said, Uber has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Transport that allows them to offer transport services to Ghanaians legally.
To him, Uber Ghana pays taxes to the state on the operations of the individual drivers and does not see the reason why the individual driver partners would have to pay levies.
Globally, Uber operates in 70 countries, but in Ghana, it operates in only Accra and recently, Kumasi. The company though has plans to expand to other regions, meaning a bit of respite for taxi drivers in cities like Tamale.
Taxi drivers in Tamale are however facing some challenges already. In this case, not from internet-enabled taxi drivers but by tricycle operators driving them out of business.
In a metropolis where the patronage of public transport service is already on the low due to the presence of a motorcycle in almost every home, the emergence of these commercial tricycles, popularly known as â€˜yellow yellowâ€™ or â€˜Mahama Cambooâ€™ is the least development the various taxi unions in the northern regional capital dreamt of.
â€œThere are hundreds of them (commercial tricycles) here. They have virtually killed our business. Many taxi drivers out of frustration are relocating to Kumasi and other places in the South due to the â€˜yellow yellowâ€™. Their fares are cheaper because the machines donâ€™t consume much fuel. They also donâ€™t pay insurance and other levies like we do,â€ an angry taxi driver roared.
It was observed that whereas traditional taxi drivers charge between GHÂ¢5.00 and GHÂ¢10 when chattered for a short distance, a customer pay far less than that for a longer distance on a â€˜Mahama Cambooâ€™. Due to this, many commuters will on any day go for the latter unless one is travelling with a heavy load.
Checks revealed that a tricycle rider records about GHÂ¢50.00 profit daily, but this can go up to GHÂ¢150 cedis on a good day.
â€œFor as low as 50 pesewas, one can get a â€˜yellow, yellowâ€™ which are always available, but for a taxi, you will pay more, and may equally be delayed as it takes time for it to be full,â€ Ali, a 24-year old diploma graduate from the University of Development Studies (UDS), explained.
Ali was right, the â€˜yellow, yellowâ€™ are always available. From the popular Aboabo Market to Gurugu, Sognaayilli, Savelugu, Nyankpala, the Central Mosque area to the famous Abedi Pele roundabout, one could count as much as twenty loaded tricycles emerging from different angles per every 100 meters.
At traffic stops, these tricycles dwarf traditional taxis, a reason to believe they are the preferred means of transport within Ghanaâ€™s third-most-populous metropolitan area.
With the growing number of these commercial tricycles comes regulatory issues. From interactions with operators of these tricycles, it was realized that most of them, mostly between the ages of 14 and 25 did not have any license or proof of registrations. Unlike the traditional taxies, these tricycles did not have roadworthy certificates or insurance covers too.
â€œI did not go to any special school to learn how to drive this (yellow yellow) it is for my senior brother so I was home-schooled. I donâ€™t know of any license. Licenses are meant for cars,â€™â€™ one rider retorted when probed.
Adherence to traffic regulations is also a major source of concern as drivers of these unconventional motors regularly stopped to pick or drop off passengers at unapproved places, posing danger to other road users, especially motorcycle riders.
In an interview with an officer with the Tamale branch of the Police Motor Transport and Traffic Department (MTTD) he said the Directorate is facing difficulties in dealing with the growing threats posed by the â€˜yellow yellowâ€™ operators.
â€œThe speed at which these tricycles are multiplying is alarming. They are giving as a hectic time, but we will surely let sanity prevail in their activities.â€™â€™
He disclosed that the police are aware of the seeming tension between the tricycle operators and traditional taxi drivers. He was however not pleased with the interference by some community leaders who plead for leniency when operators are apprehended for various traffic offences.
â€œYou arrest them and the next day you see people pleading on their behalf. The new MCE is showing a lot of commitment and we hope it continues,â€ the officer narrated, refusing to give names when asked of those intercessors.
From all indications, the â€˜yellow yellowâ€™ has come to stay, with many young men reaping from it. It is a relatively cheaper means of transportation for people from all walks of life in the metropolis. The boom has created markets for importers and tricycle repairers.
But like they say, â€œone manâ€™s meat is another manâ€™s poisonâ€. This poison is at the doorsteps of conventional taxi drivers in Tamale, who are using various means including petitions and protests to contest the legality of these new competitors.
They have formed a coalition to fight their existence, citing section 128 of the road traffic regulations 2012 ( L.I ) 2180.
As to whether the tricycle riders are ready to leave the scene, only time will tell, because, like Uber, these â€˜yellow yellowâ€™ operators insist they are operating within the limits of the law.