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Accra Case Study
Title: Study of Urban Public Transport Conditions in Accra, Ghana
Author: Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility
IBIS Transport Consultants Ltd
Date: March 2005
Download the case study (MS Word 308KB)


Bus system characteristics
Regulatory regime
Inefficient network design
Inefficient operating procedures
Inadequate transport infrastructure and traffic management
Reform program

  • This case study is based on four recent studies:
  • Improving Urban Transport through Private Participation in Accra
  • A study of urban transport planning and traffic management for the greater Accra metropolitan area
  • A pre-feasibility study for a potential bus rapid transit project in Accra
  • A pre-feasibility study covering, inter alia, passengers’ willingness to pay for transport
  • service improvements and their implied value of time
  • Accra is the largest city in Ghana. The conurbation comprising the Greater Accra Region, Tema municipality and Ga district, has a population of over three million.


    Bus system characteristics
    The vast majority of public transport services in Accra are provided by the informal sector. The only formal bus transport undertaking operating is the newly established Metro Mass Transit Ltd.

    In 1996, the government decided to privatize its passenger transport undertakings but was unable to find buyers for these businesses at the time, which resulted in their continuing decline in the absence of new investment.

    Urban public transport services were largely replaced by private sector provision of para-transit, known locally as tro-tro. Currently about 6,000 tro-tro operate each day. This industry was consolidated by the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) and some smaller bodies.

    The current administration re-affirmed the market liberalization of the economy, and the primacy of the private sector in service delivery, but has been reluctant to relinquish control over public transport fares as required by legislation.

    The government decided to sponsor the establishment of Metro Mass Transit Ltd as a quasi-private business and to undertake rolling-stock procurement on its behalf. Metro Mass Transit Ltd, as currently constituted and equipped, enjoys an unfair competitive advantage in relation to existing private operators, and acts as a barrier to market entry for any new investor.

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    Regulatory regime
    Urban passenger transport is a devolved responsibility falling to the relevant metropolitan, municipal or district assembly covering the area in question. At present each of the local assemblies issues its own permits for the operation of commercial passenger transport services in its area, and their validity is accepted in the territory of the neighboring assemblies. Permits are issued on demand to any vehicle meeting the basic requirements of roadworthiness, and having a properly qualified driver. These permits are for the whole licence area, and are not tied to specific routes. In practice these regulations are not applied to Metro Mass Transit Ltd.

    There is no centralized bus routing and scheduling plan. The route network has developed over time on an ad hoc basis as demand has been identified. GPRTU exercises control of the network through its control of the majority of terminals, even though the larger and city-centre terminals are actually owned by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly.

    Control and regulation of the urban transport market by the associations has evolved as an industry response to the regulatory vacuum created by the failure of government to implement the Omnibus Services Decree of 1972. By effectively introducing self-regulation for the sector, an orderly market has been created in which the worst consequences of competition-on-the-route have been avoided.

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    Inefficient network design
    The proliferation of routes within the network has arisen through an unintended consequence of earlier price controls. When unrealistic limits were set on fares, operators responded by breaking up routes into shorter sections so that they could still earn a return. The resultant interchanges became populated by new braches of the controlling unions, and these are now understandably resistant to any change in their operating practices.

    A high proportion of passenger journeys involve one or more interchanges as a consequence, and the final point of alighting is often at some distance from the desired destination particularly in the central business district. As a result, most journeys involve a significant walk from the final point of alighting to the point of destination. A further problem arising from the use of CBD terminals is the congestion that these create through the intensity of vehicle movements, the density of pedestrian flows to and from the terminal, and the generation of informal economic activity.

    If potential productivity gains offered by large buses are to be fully realised, and hence reductions in cost per passenger place kilometre be obtained, then the priority must be to redesign the route network based on the principles of aggregation of demand and the use of planned interchange. The total number of routes offered would drop significantly, but the range of mobility options would be preserved. With a smaller number of routes, larger buses would still be able to offer an attractive frequency of service.

    A centrally planned network, based on passenger desire lines rather than available infrastructure, would be more efficient and reduce resource consumption in the sector and hence produce economic fare levels.

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    Inefficient operating procedures
    Control of the urban passenger transport industry by the unions and associations results in a number of operating procedures designed to maximize their own returns (and those of their members) rather than prioritize customer needs.

    The typical pattern of operation in the industry is for the vehicle first to be fully loaded at the terminal before being despatched on the route. One consequence of this practice is that it becomes virtually impossible to board a vehicle along the route close to the terminal and passengers are forced to walk to the terminal even when another boarding point might be more convenient for them.

    The majority of public transport vehicles in Accra are in single unit ownership with fleet sizes of three or more being extremely rare. Further, in many cases the vehicle owner is a semi-passive investor with no direct involvement in its day-to-day operation. His commitment to the industry is not strong, and he may withdraw from it when faced with major expenditure whether for technical or accident repairs. Not only does such an ownership pattern restrict the likely level of capital investment that may be made, but it also produces incentives for maximising short-term cashflows.

    The emphasis on short-term cashflow for the owner results in the setting of daily hire rates that leave little margin for the driver after meeting his unavoidable costs. This leads to incentives for speeding and aggressive driving in traffic and at stops in order to maximise passenger revenues. It also results in deferral of repair expenditure on the vehicle, where this is it all possible, and avoidance of preventive maintenance.

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    Inadequate transport infrastructure and traffic management
    Roads in Accra are subject to severe congestion at peak times in particular, resulting in low operating speeds for public transport vehicles as well as general traffic. While road capacity has been expanded on the main arterials and orbitals in recent years, there are still problems with intersection management and functionality of the design standards. Little provision has been made with respect to public transport stops so that vehicles often have to stop in the carriageway while passengers board and alight.

    The urban transport planning study recommends the introduction of public transport priority measures through the re-allocation of existing road space and the construction of additional capacity where needed. These actions are justified on the grounds of efficiency of utilization of road space, with public transport vehicles carrying more than half of all people movements despite using only one quarter of road capacity. Constraints on private car movements arising as a result can be seen as one action in a demand management strategy.

    Improvements in vehicle productivity made possible by better transport infrastructure would also enable an improvement in fixed-cost recovery by operators and so encourage investment in more expensive but more efficient vehicle types. This would allow a polarization of the transport supply, with both low-fare mass transit buses and premium-fare luxury midi-buses capable of attracting existing car users.

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    Reform program
    The study on improving transport services in Accra recommended the introduction of a limited-competition regime for the right to offer specified transport services through open tender. This has been broadly accepted, but the institutional context within which the reforms would be implemented have yet to be agreed.

    The institutional framework suffers from overlapping responsibilities in the sector as well as a lack of the institutional capacity to address the specific issues raised by this policy approach. For effective governance of the urban transport sector in Accra, an appropriate institutional framework needs to be put in place. This must cover both the planning and procurement of the transport services and their supporting infrastructure, and also the regulation of the actual service delivery.

    The former is certainly a local function, but the latter might have national implications. Whatever the preferred framework, new or revised primary legislation may well be required for the establishment of the relevant bodies.


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