The new Federal Capital Territory Administration’s guidelines, requiring commercial drivers to, among other things, install Air Conditioners in their vehicles have been receiving criticisms since they were issued last week as JOSEPHINE ELLA-EJEH reports.
Barring any last minute change in plans, transport fares in Abuja and the entire Federal Capital Territory (FCT) may skyrocket, jerking up the prices of goods and services with them.
Last week, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) released guidelines for passenger service (commercial) vehicles, operating within Abuja, after Transport Secretary Kayode Opeifa met with all the Licensed Taxi Operators. Since the meeting, all stakeholders in the transport sector, including private vehicle owners, have been criticizing the guidelines as unnecessary and a dubious way of raising revenue.
At the meeting, Mr Opeifa said that all passenger service or commercial vehicles, such as high capacity buses, mini/mid buses, taxis, tricycles and motorcycles must carry red number plates and be registered in Abuja as from October 1. Similarly, he said that ‘’all taxis operating within the FCT must be air-conditioned on or before the deadline.’’
In addition, Opeifa further said that commercial ‘’vehicles must carry two (2) valid certificates of road-worthiness from FCT Computerised Roadworthy Test Centre, issued in the last 9 months.’’ The Transport Secretary also said that all drivers of commercial vehicles must be in possession of a valid driver’s licence and must be certified by the secretariat in line with relevant FCT Regulations.
According to him, owners of the Passenger Service Vehicle (PSV) must show evidence of tax payment in the FCT.
Significantly, the guidelines also extend tricycles, better known as Keke NAPEPs, as they are expected to operate only at the designated routes. In addition, these routes must be as approved and assigned to the particular operator by the transportation secretariat.
Opeifa further warned that “tricycles and motorcycles are to be operated only by riders with valid FCTA issued Riders Card.’’ The FCT Administration also advised drivers of all commercial vehicles, including high capacity buses, mini/mid buses, taxis, tricycles and motorcycles, to visit the nearest Department of Road Traffic Service (DRTS) office for necessary documentation and certification.
The Transport Secretary warned that henceforth, issuance of Operator’s Licence would be suspended till further notice and existing operators should not to admit/register any new commercial vehicle into their fleet. “All currently registered corporate operators are to provide the secretariat with a list of all vehicles operating under its corporate name on or before Friday, April 13, 2018, for ease of administration, road-worthiness, inspection, safety and security purposes,’’ Opeifa had directed.
Putting the cart before the horse
Significantly, no sooner had the guidelines been released than drivers and commuters kick against them. Some commercial drivers told Blueprint Weekend that the FCT Administration should have rather focused on reducing the residents’ present hardship instead of making life more difficult for them.
A taxi driver, Mainasara Abubakar, who was not even aware of the directives, expressed shock on hearing about the guidelines. “This government is not good, so many people are suffering because there is no money. To tell people to put air conditioner in their cars when people are struggling to eat three square meals in a day is very bad. The FCT administration should forget this idea and do something to help people if not, if they go ahead to enforce the directive, we taxi drivers will increase our fare because AC consumes a lot of fuel,” he said.
Another taxi driver, Mr Philip Ezekiel also said that the guidelines are unnecessary, given the prevailing hardship. He foresees that ‘’passengers will not agree to pay extra money if we fit in the AC; so, we are the ones that will lose.” According to him, almost all his fellow drivers don’t like the guidelines ‘’ because they do not favour drivers and even passengers.”
Misplacement of priorities
Similarly, a cab operator, Mr Ephraim Manasseh, said the government should have emphasized safety over comfort of passengers. According to him, ‘’if you can check from Berger to A.Y.A. most of the taxis are not using brand new tyres. We are all buying ‘tokunbo’ (used) tyres because of the economic situation. Let’s say we buy cars with air-conditioner or fix air-conditioners, will the passengers pay for it?’’ Speaking in a similar vein, Mr Ernest Ezeagu, chairman of taxi drivers at the Berger Park, Abuja also complained that the cost of running and maintaining commercial vehicles are already too high.
The new requirement of putting air-conditioners in them is likely to put many of the commercial vehicle operators out of business, he complained. “If you say that everybody should have AC, many people will become thieves; they will look for another country or another state to go to.
The taxis in Abuja are many, we are paying to the government but they don’t do anything for us. They want to make many people useless,” he lamented. Similarly, IT consultant, Victor Olajide, pointed out that FCTA should been more concerned about the road worthiness of the vehicles plying the roads as the issue of AC was very frivolous. He argued that “if the vehicle is not actually good what is the benefit of having an AC there?
We should look at the vehicles themselves, how good they are – the interior, the exterior, the engine. If they are sound, having AC would have been one of the least.’’
Commuters also complain
Expectedly, it is not only drivers or commercial vehicle owners that kicked against the guidelines as commuters also criticized the authorities for issuing them. Mr Okogo Augustine told our correspondent that workers’ salaries are too meager to accommodate the increase in the prices of goods and services, including transport fares, that the guidelines will bring about when they are enforced.
According to him, “we are working in various places; some people are well paid while some others are not receiving good pay. Our salary is not encouraging. The price of foods and other items keep climbing but salary is not something to write home about. They are just diverting attention from what they are expected to do. That is not our problem. If they want to solve our problem, let them ask us if they don’t know what our problems.’’
Good policy, bad timing
Significantly, it was all knocks for the guidelines and no praises. Malam Bala Rilwanu, a taxi driver told our correspondent that the idea is good but the timing is wrong and the notice is equally very short.
“Thereare a lot of problems now that I think the government should be more concerned about things such as electricity, accommodation in the FCT, unemployment and so on.
I am a graduate of Benue state university, I became a taxis driver because I could not secure a job,’’ he told Blueprint Weekend.
According to reach the Assistant Director, Information Transportation, Secretariat, Mr. Ifeanyi Ughamadu to get his reactions failed as several calls put to his mobile telephone line were not answered, neither did he reply a text message that our correspondent sent to him.
Clearly, Abuja commercial drivers and commuters as well as every resident of the capital city, will feel the effect of this policy one way or the other.