Theodore Asimeng
Paratransit Operators’ Participation in Public Transport Reforms: Insights from Ghana

Public transport in cities of the Global South is mainly provided by private individuals who self-regulate their mini and midi-buses due to inadequate formal transport services and weak to no formal regulatory framework and enforcement. This kind of transport service is known to be demand responsive, unscheduled, and functions through the services of informal operators hence the term “informal transport” or paratransit. In recent times, following the example of Curitiba and Bogota, public officials in many of such cities have sought to reform the ubiquitous paratransit transport by introducing bus rapid transit (BRT). BRT is a form of mass transit which applies the speed and reliability associated with rail transport but benefits from the lower cost of implementation and flexibility of bus services. Public officials have used BRT as a mechanism to regulate, address the problems and negative externalities associated with paratransit operations, and ensure efficiency in public transport within their jurisdiction. In pursuit of these reforms, public officials face a dilemma to include or exclude incumbent paratransit operators.

Non-inclusion of incumbent paratransit operators may result in faster implementation, allow for competitive bidding and selection of operators with the required capital investment for efficient services at lower cost. However, non-inclusion may result in incumbent operators grinding the city to a halt provided they have the numbers as observed in Quito or the situation where gun men opened fire on a BRT bus three days after opening in Johannesburg in a bid to show disapproval of the BRT operations while negotiations were on-going. To ensure successful implementation of BRT, some public officials have supported incumbent paratransit operators to participate in the BRT. Despite the support for incumbent operators for bidding processes or making them overt operators without bidding, resistance and low interest in participating in BRT has been observed across the Global South. Incumbent paratransit operators’ resistance and low interest in BRT often results in long periods spent on negotiations affecting planned commencement and implementation of pre-arranged phases of the BRT. This is contrary to the findings that suggest that participation is the cure to resistance to change. Again, the low interest is baffling as other findings have shown that paratransit operators suffer more from stress in comparison to BRT operators.

Despite the recognition that a major barrier to BRT implementation is to understand the concerns of incumbent operators to facilitate their participation, studies that have particularly researched into this situation so far are few. These studies have focused on the attitude of paratransit operators to reforms in the city of Cape Town, incumbent operators’ willingness to participate in transit improvements in Mexican cities; and using the life-cycle analogy to analyse reasons behind successful participation of incumbent operators in Johannesburg. This is surprising given that an understanding of paratransit operators resistance and low interest in BRT will bolster reform implementation in situations where public officials opt to include them. In this regard, the focus of this study is to (1) examine common explanations for paratransit operators’ resistance and low interest in reforms with BRT using case studies (2) analyse the merits and controversies associated with the reform approach adopted by public authorities and draw lessons from incorporating incumbent paratransit operators in Accra-Ghana (3) apply the behavioural economics concept of “control premium” to understand the extent to which financial rewards influence paratransit operators’ decision to give up their flexibility and autonomy to participate in a formal bus operations in Accra-Ghana.