As Greater Accra expands, merging with the industrial port town of Tema, Ghana’s growing urban populations are increasingly experiencing the frustrations of mega-city traffic congestion. For example, the Motor Transport and Traffic Department recorded 2890 road accidents in the first quarter of 2017, compared to 2830 the same period of 2016. A 2015 report on urban mobility in African cities published by the Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy Programme highlighted costly and time-consuming travel for people living in Accra, noting that commuters sometimes have travel times of up to four hours.
Part of this is a result of higher rates of car ownership: latest statistics from the Ministry of Transport recorded the total number of registered vehicles in 2015 at 1.95m, with the majority in Greater Accra (1.16m) and Kumasi (270,000). This means that the vehicle-to-population ratio in Ghana grew from about 50 vehicles per 1000 people in 2010 to 70 in 2015. However, some of these challenges also arise from rapid urbanisation and a lack of centrally coordinated public transport, which leaves many buses and minibuses on the road at the same time with no overall timing and route strategy.
Plans & Partnerships
As announced by the Ministry of Finance in June 2017, the government signed an agreement with the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs to launch the Urban Mobility and Accessibility Project in efforts to ease congestion and reduce commute times in Accra. The $6m project includes developing local capacity for public transport and traffic management, financing key infrastructure and fostering a partnership between Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne over urban mobility planning.
Patrick Paintsil, a journalist for Ghana’s Business and Financial Times, told OBG, “The Urban Mobility and Accessibility Project is good because congestion and high cost of transportation have been problems for a long time. The pilot programme started with a few buses to test operations before they scale it up.”
These efforts to make roads safer and more efficient involve a tricky balancing act, given that costs of transport are rising with increased petroleum costs. In April 2017 the Ghana Road Transport Coordinating Council enacted a 15% road transport fare increase.
Literal cost increases compound existing lost value from traffic congestion itself. Implications of these expenses go beyond individual loss: as the Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy Programme notes, congestion can impede the competitiveness and attractiveness of a city, and stifle overall economic growth. A 2013 study from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology examined the effects of traffic on informal sector workers in Kumasi, Ghana’s second-largest city. It found that long commute times result in lost hours corresponding to an average income decrease of 21.9%.
While urban traffic control is still largely in the earlier stages of development, the government has the issue on its radar. In addition to the Urban Mobility and Accessibility Project, President Nana Akufo-Addo told local press of plans to institute an incentive-based scheme to reward transport unions whose drivers had the fewest accidents. Furthermore, the government plans to establish a national training academy for drivers.
Industry players are optimistic about these steps, though some claim there must be greater community buy-in for sustainable programme success. Because people are accustomed to traditional modes of transport, they do not always understand the value of recent government outlays on traffic improvements. However, if efforts like the Urban Mobility and Accessibility Project can be executed well, Ghana’s cities could be on the road to recovery.