Despite the arrival of 100 buses in the country only few months ago, there is still visible huge constrain for public transportation in the Western Area, which hosts almost half of the country’s six million population.
It could be recalled that the Government of Sierra Leone procured 100 buses last year in a bid to ease constrains faced by public commuters. But since the arrival of the buses, amidst a cloud of controversy, questions have been raised as to whether in fact 100 buses were procured.
In most lorry parks, bus stations and junctions in the Western Area, long queues of commuters could be seen waiting for buses for hours to convey them to their various destinations.
Adama Yilla, who this reporter met in a queue at PMB junction in Wellington, east of Freetown, revealed that on a daily basis there is a long queue at the junction and that it is very difficult to get a vehicle to convey people direct to Eastern Police.
“Sometimes one has to pay more than Le5,000 (five thousand Leones) rather than the government stipulated Le1,000 (one thousand Leones). For us who cannot afford that amount of money, we have to wake up at 4:00am or stay for a very long time in queues after that time,” she explained.
The government buses, she claimed, are not seen frequently in that part of the capital, adding that she doubted whether they are 100 in fact.
At Waterloo, Abubakarr Kargbo claimed that only one government bus plies the Waterloo-Eastern Police route. He said they largely rely on commercial vehicles to ease the seeming transport constrain and not the government buses.
He further remarked that though the commercial mini buses (poda-podas) charge more than Le2,000 as fare, they are serving the purpose.
At Calaba Town, commuters are seen in the rush hours chasing commercial vehicles to convey them to their destinations. The same is true for commuters at Ferry Junction, Lumley, Aberdeen, Regent Road, among other lorry parks in Freetown.
However, the Public Relations and Marketing Manager at the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC), Mohamed Zoker, said 68 government buses are currently plying various routes in the Western Area.
He said there are 19, 30 and 46-seater buses among the 100 buses that were procured by the government from China few months ago, adding that 50 buses have 19 seats, 30 buses with 30 seats, while 20 buses with 46 seats.
“All the 46-seater buses, including two 30-seater ones, totaling to 22, are currently plying the provincial routes. 15 of the 68 buses in the Western Area are allocated to school-going children,” he said.
The SLRTC official noted that his office created a monitoring unit to ensure that everyone onboard the buses is given a ticket. The unit also checks for prohibited items onboard the bus, he added.
“We have realised positive impacts in the handling of the buses because of the mass sensitisation. We encourage the public to also monitor the buses so as to ensure that they are sustained,” he urged.
Zoker however confirmed that there was need for more government buses if they were to tackle the acute transport constrain in the Western Area.
Meanwhile, many citizens have questioned the number of buses that the SLRTC official claims are plying various routes in the Western Area. This is because huge queues form during dawn and dusk hush hours at various lorry parks in the city.