Booming illegal public transport: More harm?
Various car models moving into and out of Lilongwe, is seemingly a sign that Malawi’s economy is booming.
Public transport is no longer a problem since anyone who has a car can take passengers and drive them to their destination as quickly as possible.
But do all these cars have passenger permits? Do they even care about the safety of their passengers?
The Road Traffic Act (1997) and Road Traffic Regulations (2000) stipulate that if a car is to operate as a public service vehicle, the owner of the vehicle must declare its usage as a taxi or public transport vehicle upon registration.
Additionally, the law states that a taxi owner must be registered as an operator and that the driver must also have a valid professional driving permit category “P” to allow him or her drive passengers for reward.
However, there is a different story on the roads of Malawi; not all public transport vehicles and drivers are operating within the legal requirements.
To the illegal operators, it does not matter whether the vehicle has a Certificate of Fitness and a red number plate with a white background or not; and, indeed whether the driver has a licence or not.
Anybody with a car can pull over at Biwi and Kanengo along the M1 Road and pick passengers to Blantyre and Mzuzu even when the vehicle is not registered for public transport.
What matters is whether the vehicle and the driver can take the passengers to their destinations and get paid in return.
Hunger for money seems to have taken people far from abiding by laws and regulations of the land.
“Yes, it is very hot. If you are not caught by road traffic police officers, it brings lots of money, Once you reach the boss’ target, the rest goes into your pocket,” says Mayeso Phiri, a Hijet driver from Kauma.
Phiri says he takes the driving opportunity from whoever entrusts him with the task.
He explains that that a driver’s licence becomes “of great importance” only when caught by the road traffic police officers as they also check the vehicle’s insurance for policy cover.
“Otherwise, it [licence] is not useful,” he says.
“Acquiring a licence is too demanding because it does not only require you to apply for it, but also requires that you attend lessons at a driving school, which is very costly.”
Minibus driver Emmanuel Bamusi from area 36–Kaphiri, says it becomes painful when traffic police officers snatch car keys for any road traffic offence.
“When you fail to pay the fee for not having a driver’s licence, the police officer takes the car keys until you decide to pay some little money, for which, mostly, you are not issued a receipt.
“They only issue a receipt when you pay the full amount charged for violating the traffic laws and regulations,” says Bamusi, suggesting elements of corruption.
This disregard for laws and regulations brings to light the extent to which the chaotic situation has turned into on the country’s roads.
It may also be linked to frequent road accidents in the country.
Deputy National Police Spokesperson, Thomeck Nyaude, says from January to September, 2019 there were 809 fatal and 549 serious road accidents.
“At least 747 people got seriously injured while 958 people lost their lives. In 2018, we recorded 1,095 fatal and 656 serious road accidents. At least 1,275 people lost their lives and 920 people got serious injuries,” Nyaude says.
Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services Public Relations Officer, Angelina Makwecha, says the directorate is aware of the malpractices.
She describes the situation as worrisome saying it compromises the safety of the driver, passengers and other road users.
“For your information, it is dangerous for a driver to convey passengers for r eward without Professional Driving Permit Category P, because that particular driver is not properly trained to carry passengers,” Makwecha says.
One of the passengers from Area Kauma, Clement Zaliro, bemoans the illegal public transport system saying “it does not only endanger people’s lives, but it is also retards socio-economic development.”
“When a c c ident s occur, human resource gets threatened; productive people die and this further encourages corruption and poverty in the country,” Zaliro says.
However, Makwecha says the drivers engage in lawlessness because they take advantage of the fact that law enforcers cannot be found at each and every corner of the road.
To this effect, she appeals to the general public not to endanger their lives by refraining from boarding any vehicle that operates illegally on the roads of Malawi.
“Those who wish to operate taxis should first meet the requirements as stipulated in the Road Traffic Act (1997) and Road Traffic Regulations (2000), as failure to adhere to them is punishable by law,” Makwecha says. —Mana
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