PAYNESVILLE, Montserrado â€“ A Bush Chicken investigation has established that despite several boosts to the National Transit Authority during the Sirleaf administration, the incoming administration inherited an agency with only 17 functional buses, down from 55.
A look around Monrovia during rush hour reveals a high demand for low cost transportation options. There is often limited capacity on the small shared taxis that frequent the cityâ€™s main corridors and clog up traffic.
A reasonable alternative for some commuters would be the NTAâ€™s bus services, which charge much lower fares across the city and with its higher capacity, could help reduce the traffic on Monroviaâ€™s roads.
However, a lack of proper maintenance of the agencyâ€™s fleet has left the new leadership constrained, according to the new management.
After a 2015 donation of 20 buses by the Turkish government through its development arm, the Turkey Cooperation and Coordination Agency, Tarnue Jeke, the NTA managing director at the time, said the new buses brought the total fleet to 55 functional buses.
â€œThe additional buses were meant to contribute significantly to the country re-fleeting strategy, consistent with keeping the same brand as best management of maintenance, servicing and spare parts,â€ Jeke said at the time.
Unfortunately, despite the boost to the public transport sector of the country those donations and others provided, most of the buses now have mechanical problems, and with spare parts difficult to find in Liberia, it is difficult to spot the buses on the roads.
Visits to NTAâ€™s compound over the course of several days showed that many of the buses have developed mechanical problems and were not mobile. Some of the buses appeared to have been cannibalized for spare parts and the empty shells of buses are littered on the compound.
The new management says it has attempted to get some of the buses back on the road by having its mechanics use spare parts from the defunct buses to fix others.
Tybalt S. Jimmie, the corporate communications officer for the NTA, told The Bush Chicken that even though the new management â€œinherited a broken entityâ€ it has been able to augment the 17 functional buses it met to 32. He said those vehicles are now plying different routes in Monrovia and acrosss the country.
He added that NTA currently has 11 buses running daily in counties such as Cape Mount, Grand Bassa, Nimba, Bong, and Margibi. The Grand Gedeh and Lofa routes, he said, have been halted because of the bad road conditions in the areas.
Even though the agency is managing to optimize its limited resources, Jimmie said NTA does not have suffient funds because â€œthe past management left the entity in huge financial deficit.â€
He said if the entityâ€™s proposed 2018-2019 budget is approved as is, it will be a significant boost and allow the agency to purchase additional buses. The draft budget submitted by the exectutive branch to the legislature appropriated US$1.5 million for the agency.
In March, the government recast the budget and included US$200,000 for NTA under its â€œPro-Poor Projects.â€ Jimmie said the funds are being used to purchase spare parts from India.
Even as the NTA is seeking more funds for its operations, it continues to charge extremely low rates in comparison to other modes of transportation.
â€œThe NTA is still collecting L$15 [US$0.11] from passengers in the Monrorovia municipality,â€ Jimmie noted. The flat fare charged for travel across the Monrovia metropolitan area has remained the same for several years now and for some distances (such as from Red Light to Central Monrovia), it is almost ten times cheaper than the fares charge by the more prevalent shared taxis.
But Jimmie said the agency is not a profit making institution and any change in fares would require consultation with the public, the president, and lawmakers.
â€œWhatever is generated is used by management for gasoline, fuel, and to purchase spare parts for the buses,â€ he said.
NTAâ€™s job, he added, is to provide affordable and effective transport to the Liberian people.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah