Motorbike taxi business has boomed in recent times, facilitating transport in hard-to-reach areas and creating job opportunities for thousands of jobless youths. The otherwise good development is, however, dented by increasing numbers of road accidents the taxis are involved in, claiming lives and leaving a trail of devastation. JAMESON CHAULUKA, in this FRIDAY SHAKER, looks at this thriving transport sector that is not regulated.
Year-in and year-out, thousands of lives continue being lost on the country’s roads in most cases leaving children, parents and dependents helpless.
The road accidents leave many people with permanent and life-changing disabilities.
On December 26 2019, four people died in Dowa District when an unregistered motorcycle they boarded was involved in a head-on collision with a motor vehicle registration number KU 5838 at Kasese Trading Centre.
Although according to traffic laws, a motorbike can only carry two people, including the rider himself, but in this case, the rider, Petro Banda, carried three passengers, including one year-old child.
The four were coming from Kasungu direction heading to Mponela and at Kasese, Banda wanted to overtake a vehicle resulting in the head-on collision with the vehicle from the opposite direction.
All the four on the motor cycle, Loveness Phiri, 24, Likisana Kachepa, 29, Petrol Banda and the child were pronounced dead at Kasese Health Centre after sustaining injuries.
Mponela Police spokesperson, Kondwani Kandiado, advised motorbike operators in the district to follow traffic safety rules.
Kandiado’s remarks were echoed by Southern Region Commissioner of Police, Sledge Yoosuf, during a Christmas party for senior officers in the region in Blantyre last week.
He said the police will this year double its efforts in identifying and implementing measures to reduce road accidents.
Another motorbike taxi operator Charles Chathyoka, who has been in the business for three years, said they were at risk of traffic accidents.
“I have been involved in a few accidents myself. I had a passenger and all of a sudden it started raining. I lost balance and fell to the ground. Fortunately, both of us did not sustain serious injuries,” he said.
Chathyoka said the motor bike taxi operators risk carrying passengers who refuse to pay afterwards.
On the increasing number of accidents, Chathyoka said the problem is not always them but the government focuses on minibus drivers.
“Sometimes, the motor bike taxi operators follow all the traffic rules but then you will find that other road users are impeding you. The problem is usually with minibus drivers. Some truck drivers, too, do not care about us but of course some motor bike taxi operators are careless,” he said.
According to the Minister of Transport and Public Infrastructure Ralph Jooma, Malawi registered 5,331 road accidents resulting in the death of 1,275 people while 921 persons were seriously injured in 2018.
Jooma, who was the guest of honour at the event, described the road traffic accidents as a serious public health problem and a significant economic setback to the country.
He said it was sad that the people who are mostly losing their lives are of the most productive age-group of between 25-44 years.
Malawi police records show that from January to November 2019, 9,326 road accidents were recorded, killing 1,141 people.
What is more worrisome is that motor bike taxis which have created jobs to thousands of the youths and reduced transportation woes in rural areas are increasingly being involved in such road accidents.
Speaking during the commemoration of the African Road Safety Day on November 23 2019, the Directorate of Road Traffic Safety Services (DRTSS) Director, Fergus Gondwe, reported that from January to June 2019, Malawi recorded 406 accidents involving motorcyclists, up from 181 the same period in 2018, representing a 124 percent jump.
These crashes claimed lives of 40 motorcycle riders while 44 were injured severely.
Addressing the people, Gondwe described the accidents as sad saying there was lack of seriousness among motorcycle riders and passengers when using motorcycles as a mode of transport.
“These riders do not use any protective wear and most of the operators disregard their safety. They lack knowledge on road traffic rules and regulations,” he said.
Gondwe conceded that most of the operators are not licenced and their motorcycles are not registered.
As the Director notes that most of the motorbike operating on the country’s roads are not registered and therefore, not regulated, they continue posing a threat to the operators and passengers.
The African Road Safety Day, which is commemorated every third week of November, was set aside to remember people who lost their lives in road crashes and empathise with families that suffer because of these deaths.
The day also provides a platform for the citizens of African countries to cheer the injured who are nursing their wounds either at home or in hospitals.
DRTSS spokesperson, Angelina Makwecha, said they were concerned with the influx of unlicenced motorcycle operators who have not undergone formal rider training.
Looking at the shocking numbers of accidents involving motorbike taxi operators, the day focused on the theme: ‘Motor Cycle Riders Be Safe, Get Licenced and Follow Traffic Rules’.
The influx of the motor bike taxi operators is somehow not surprising as most of them are smuggled from Mozambique due to Malawi’s porous borders.
Reports say one can easily get a motorbike in Mozambique at as cheap as K200,000 most of which are stolen from other people Makwecha said Malawi Traffic Information System (MalTIS) has 19,994 motorcycles but they were aware that most unregistered motorcycles are being operated in rural areas across the country.
The number of motorbikes and road accidents are expected to increase as the government removed customs duty on motorcycles of cylinder capacity of less than 100cc to empower small and medium scale entrepreneurs and facilitate movement of goods and people.
Jooma defended the move saying it shows that the government appreciates the importance of motorcycles in facilitating movement of people.
Fingers are pointing at motor bike taxi operators. But what are the operators saying?
Stephano Mapeleka, a motor cycle operator for five years, said their main problem is that Malawi Revenue Authority and police officers chase them pushing for the registration of the bikes.
He said most of the bikes are not registered because the operators lack enough money.
Ganizani Luka, Mulanje Motor Cycles Association Chairperson, concurred with Chathyoka that the problem on the road is not only to do with motorbike taxi operators.
Earlier, Motor Cycles and Cycles Association of Malawi President, Michael Mumba, said they had taken an initiative to reduce road accidents involving its members.
He said the association is engaging motorbike taxi operators, DRTSS, traffic police officers and driving schools to find ways of reducing such accidents.
“We want our members to be trained in road traffic safety regulations. We are helping them to acquire licences and that the bikes should be insured so that in times of accidents, at least, passengers should be compensated.
“We are also engaging driving schools to reduce motor cycle riding fees to enable as many operators as possible to be trained. The fees have been reduced in many schools and in six months one can have a licence,” he said.
At the moment, motorbike operators continue to offer convenient means of travel especially in rural areas where road networks are bad. But of course, the convenience comes with it risks of accidents.