Planning a "modern" city: Infrastructural imaginations and the model city
Congested traffic conditions are more than just an inconvenience and frustration. Residents like Osei lose valuable time and energy stuck in traffic. Recent studies argue that congestion on the road from Kwame Nkrumah Circle to Madina results in at least 2 additional hours of travel time to cover a distance of only 13 km (Mensah, Anna, & Andoh-Baidoo 2014). Residents traveling along other major corridors spend between 35 and 73 minutes per day in transit due to traffic congestion. Over the course of a year, those hours accumulate — as many as 862 hours sitting in traffic (or some $1,095 in labour) (Ofeng-Ababio & Agyemang 2012: 155).
If we think of this extended travel time as “wasted”, we ignore the various economic adaptations that have emerged to utilize this time. While sitting in traffic might seem inherently unproductive to observers and passengers, immobility is productive in a Foucauldian sense — producing and reproducing social and economic relationships and networks (in this case between hawkers and passengers) even in the context of seeming disorder or dysfunction (Foucault 1991: 202; Chabal & Daloz 1999). However, as Osei and other passengers make clear, this traffic does place mental, physical, and temporal strain on immobile citizens. Drivers, likewise, find that congestion cuts into their profits, undermining the productivity and profitability’ of their work. Studies in Kumasi show that drivers lose approximately 20% of their anticipated profits due to traffic congestion (Harriet, Poku, & Emmanuel 2013: 233). On a national level, Jonathan Annan’s research argues that traffic constitutes 10.5% of the country’s GDP, and traffic congestion constitutes 8.5% of GDP (Ibrahim 2018).
In their proposed solutions for this persistent crisis of urban immobility, government officials and planners consistently invoke a vision of a “modern city”. Former President John Dramani Mahama argued that “owe of the major drawbacks to the development of Accra as a modern city was that it lacked a proper public transport system" (Boadu 2016).Trotros had been moving the city’s population for more than fifty years, but the small-scale, decentralized nature of the trotro system does not seem to fit policy models of “modern transit”. As transport planners from the Institute for Transport and Development Planning argue,
This model is no longer appropriate if African cities are truly to become competitive on the world’s stage. [...] These cities, crowded with people and cars and growing quickly and unchecked, are now transforming their industries by implementing modern mass transit — a service called bus rapid transit (BRT).
(Gauthier & Weinstock 2010: 318)
For some, the model of a “modern city” with “modern transportation” is an end in itself. For others, like current President Nana Akuffo-Addo, Accra’s transportation system is part of a project to improve the country’s broader transport infrastructure. If it is easier to move between the country’s rural, peri-urban, and urban areas, Akuffo-Addo reasons, perhaps people will be less likely to come to Accra (Ibrahim 2018).Transport systems such as the BRT, then, are designed to simultaneously help rapidly urbanizing cities better cope with their growing numbers and slow the rate of urbanization more broadly.
Accra’s most recent commitment to Bus Rapid Transit grew out of the 2008 National Transport Policy document, which aimed to create “an integrated, efficient, cost-effective and sustainable transportation system responsive to the needs of society, supporting growth and poverty reduction and capable of establishing and maintaining Ghana as a transportation hub ofWest Africa” (Anane 2008: i).This policy, which was part of the government’s Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (2003), highlighted “the importance of transport services and infrastructure in enabling economic growth and poverty reduction" (Okoye, Sands & Debrah 2010:11). Supported by the World Bank, l’Agence Francaise de Developpement, and the Global Environment Facility, the 5-year (2008—2012), $95 million Ghana Urban Transport Project (GUTP) sought to reform public transport services and infrastructure in Ghana’s cities (Okoye, Sands & Debrah 2010: 11). In particular, the GUTP sought to build a pilot BRT corridor on the Mallam Road, connecting Amasaman with the city’s Central Business District (CBD). Original plans called for a segregated right-of-way along a portion of the route, as well as modern bus stations and terminals, automated electronic ticketing systems, regularly timed trips, and high-quality bus service (including air conditioning and Wi-Fi) (Okoye, Sands & Debrah 2010: 13; Accra Bus Rapid Transit System 2008). The implementation proposal tor BRT also included new regulatory frameworks for the transport sector and driver training (Bus Rapid Transit Systems 2017).The ultimate goal was a form of public-private partnership, with drivers and vehicle owners pooling resources to purchase vehicles, operating with government oversight of infrastructure and services (Okoye, Sands, & Debrah 2010).
Ten years later, construction on the pilot project as well as the other 4 BRT corridors has been completed, and the newly dubbed Aayalolo Bus Service is operating along some routes (Ibrahim 2016) (see Figure 20.4) . The Swedish company Scania, which was originally only contracted to provide buses tor the new service, now has an expanded role developing ticketing systems and driver training schemes in Accra in ways that have directly shaped the end-product (Bus RapidTransit Systems 2017).The first 85 vehicles took to the road in September 2016.The remaining 160 buses reportedly sat idle for a year or more while officials with the Department of Urban Roads and the Greater Accra Passenger Transport Executive (GAPTE) made arrangements on other routes (Adogla-Bessa 2017).The system is currently operating from three terminals, connecting Achimota, Amasaman, and Ofankor with theTudu terminal in the Central Business District. The country’s three major transport unions — GPRTU, Co-Operative, and
Figure 20.4 Aayalolo Bus Stop, Pokuase, Accra. Source: Jennifer Hart, 4 July 2018.
PR.OTOA — liave formed offshoot companies to run services on these routes (Admin 2016; Aayalolo 2018). 600 drivers are using a simulator as part of training exercises at the recently- founded National Driver Academy, including 73 female drivers who have received particular attention from the Ghanaian press (Appiah-Osei & Larbie 2017). This training, which draws on high-profile experts like Miss Taxi Ghana’s Esenam Nyador, is a partnership between the National Driver Academy, Safe Drive Innovations, and Scania Bus Rapid Transit, designed to improve safety on the roads but also to cultivate a culture of high-quality service among drivers (Appiah-Osei & Larbie 2017).
In utilizing advanced technological training and explicitly recruiting women — who do have a history of driving in the country but who are not traditionally associated with the transportation sector — GAPTE and its partners further highlight the “modernity” and progressiveness of this system. Other publicized initiatives like air conditioning, USB charging ports, Wi-Fi service, and an “IT infrastructure that allows us to have an automated fare collection system” on board of buses is intended to attract middle-class residents who might otherwise use private cars (Gyanrera 2016). As MP Kwabena Okyere Darko Mensah noted,
We are asking that all the buses be fitted with air conditioning — especially the BRT ones — because the target is car owners.You don’t expect people to park their air conditioned cars and ride in non-air conditioned buses. [...] It’s not going to happen. So [if there is not air conditioning] we won’t save the space we want to save. [...] They told us that there was air conditioning on the buses, there were USB sockets, and Wi-Fi. [...] Because that is very modern, and we have to do it once and for all.
The Limits of "complete systems": Popular logics and spatial realities
While Scania, GAPTE, the AMA, and other partners have highlighted what they perceive to be successes in the implementation of BRT, public response has been more ambivalent. After ten years of construction, drivers and passengers have grown impatient with the road construction, which further exacerbated traffic congestion and raised questions about the appropriation of funds. For many Accra residents, the inefficiencies of this project echo earlier failed plans, symbolized by an entire fleet of buses sitting unused in a parking lot. Public criticism increased as the buses were opened tor testing in 2016. Early test operations used unlicensed and unregistered vehicles, and the GAPTE CEO Sampson Gyamera admitted that the system wasn’t “Bus Rapid Transit” after all — without dedicated lanes it failed to meet the basic criteria for an effective BRT system. Instead, he argued, it was a “quality bus system” which would improve the quality of the service by providing passengers with more information and a new ticketing system (Gyamera 2016; Adogla-Bessa 2016). While journalists raised questions about whether these “quality buses” were more like “glorified trotros” (Adogla-Bessa 2017), traffic engineer Mahama Abdullai publicly denounced the system as a joke that was not well thought-through (Taylor 2017).
Passengers also don’t seem to be using the system (see Figure 20.5). Eight months after the Aayalolo system began operations, it was still not making a profit (Taylor 2017). Passengers interviewed by Citi Business News said that the BRT system was inconvenient:“I do not always use the route the buses use. In addition, the card system is complicated for me considering the kind of work I do and the inconveniences I am likely to face if my credit gets exhausted” (Arthur 2018). Other passengers saw the regular bus stops as a waste of time and struggled with errors in the fare system and the limited routes of the network. Apparently air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and cheaper tares are not enough to convince regular trotro passengers to embrace the new service. Commuters continue to make calculated mobility decisions based on the same factors that Abane observed in 2011. By seriously addressing only the most marginal of passenger considerations — the service experience — BRT appears to be yet one more in a series of failed transport interventions.
These public concerns reflect larger, systemic contradictions at the core of the BRT project — contradictions that the BRT and its predecessors have consistently failed to address. Scania’s Fredrik Morsing argues that “What they need is a complete solution” — something Scania claims to provide (Bus Rapid Transit-System 2019).This language ot a “complete solution” resonates with government rhetoric that casts the BRT system as an efficient piece of infrastructural planning. Scania’s package deal provides not only vehicles, but also driver training and IT services, working closely with government through consultancies designed to get the project up and running8. In practice, however, by focusing development only on main corridors, the system still fails to grapple with the realities of urban sprawl and spatial segregation that structure the mobility needs of most urban residents. In other words, the system doesn’t go far enough to fundamentally change the mobility practices of urban residents because it does not address the spatial realities of the city. In its incompleteness, the Aayalolo bus system seems more like the unpopular Metro Mass Transit (MMT) system, now popularly known as the “Kufuor bus”.
Figure 20.5 An Aayalolo Bus Runs Empty. Source: Jennifer Hart, 4 July 2018.
Introduced under former President John Kufuor, MMT also claimed to offer a transition to a more modern, functional bus rapid transit system that would transform urban mobility in the capital (Yobo 2013). While MMT buses continue to operate in Accra and are often cheaper than alternative transport systems, many Accra residents prefer trotros for their speed and accessibility. Passenger response to the Aayalolo bus, then, should not be a surprise.
At its base, this failure to respond to basic, documented passenger need highlights the degree to which planners failed to fully understand the existing transport cultures, values, systems, and practices of the city. In the rush to construct a “modern” transport system, BRT advocates targeted trotros as the primary cause of the city’s congestion and a target for reform. By labelling trotros as part of the “informal sector”, policy-makers and planners effectively excluded trotro drivers and passengers from their visions of a modern Accra. Advocates signal this decontextu- alization of model-based planning through the passive voice rampant in planning documents and policy analysis.
By including “stakeholders” in the process of deliberation, planning, and implementation, advocates for the Accra BRT project seemed to take a huge step forward towards truly participatory planning. Drivers’ unions, in particular, were encouraged to form corporations and invest in the new buses, and driver representatives like A1 Haji Tetteh, former chairman of the Accra branch of the GPRTU participated in trips to Brazil and South Africa to view existing model
BRT projects (Okoye, Sands & Debrali 2010). However, as 1 conducted interviews in lorry parks during this same period of stakeholder consultation in 2009, drivers spoke quite freely to me about their concerns with the process and their reservations about whether A1 Haji Tetteh truly represented the interests of drivers — a concern that reflects some of the dysfunctional internal politics of the union, but which had serious implications for drivers who are directly affected by the outcome of the project. Furthermore, until the GPRTU had a clearer sense of the proposed project, drivers had been instructed not to work with or speak to government officials or other policy-makers directly about the BRT.
By 2009, with funding already obtained, BRT already seemed like a foregone conclusion anyway. By committing to the BRT model at such an early stage, policy-makers missed an opportunity to engage drivers in more productive conversations about ways to address the city’s congestion problems. This process is echoed in much of the language used in planning documents and policy analysis. Parliamentary representatives like Kwabena Okyere Darko Mensah framed the BRT as a partnership with the private sector trotro drivers to increase public transport capacity and decrease congestion. Mensah argued that, in the eyes of Parliamentarians, the BRT had always been an integral part of the trotro system. Trotro drivers were encouraged to invest in these buses, buying shares as part of“their express service”.“This is going to be theirs”, he argued,“so when you declare your profits, it’s going to be for trotro owners” (Mensah 2016). However, scholarly analysis and policy documents drafted throughout this period consistently categorize trotro drivers as part of the “informal economy”, an illegitimate and ineffective form of transport and a primary impediment to transport sector reform and “formal sector” growth.