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.