Just as passengers have gotten used to — and praised — the Ministry of Transport (MOT) regulation of 3 passengers in the back seat of a taxi, commercial drivers have bumped the mandate and reverted to their pre-Ebola standard, cramming 4 passengers in the back seat and, in rare cases, 2 in the front passenger seat.
Now passengers are clashing with commercial taxi drivers over the resumption of what they consider an unsafe and inconvenient practice.
Recently at the Capitol Bypass near the demolished Don Kan Gas Station, passengers burst into commotion with a taxi driver for stopping to add one passenger to the three passengers already at the back. The front seat was already occupied with a passenger.
Although drivers over-charge passengers, justifying that they are restricted to take three at the back, they chare the same amount when four passengers are taken.
A female passenger joined by her male counterparts got into a bitter argument with the driver of the taxi she was in: “Government has not given the go-ahead for drivers to take four at the back of a taxi. If you want to add any passenger to us, you should ask for our approval before doing it. You cannot force your will on us because you want to get more money.”
The driver, who was backed only by the new passenger, an elderly man he wanted to accommodate, countered that government has allowed them to take four passengers at the back of a taxi since Ebola is out of Liberia; which onlookers including the passengers strongly objected to.
The passengers further contended that the new regulation to take no more than three passengers at the back seat of a taxi was not necessarily due to the presence of Ebola, but a standard applied in any civilized country.
“No where you will go around here now to see four persons at the back of a taxi, only you Liberian drivers like to exploit people in this country because you do not want things to be better,” one passenger stated with agitation.
“I don’t blame you people. Ministry of Transport that brought out the law is not enforcing it to the letter, so you find it an opportunity to carry on your uncivilized behavior,” the contentious female passenger said.
In another instance at the 72nd Junction, a taxi driver placed four persons at the back of his vehicle with two in the front.
He, too, contended that the increase in the price of gasoline price requires him to find means to still make profit amid the commodity price hike.
Despite resistance on the part of passengers to stop the act, the driver said “You can take me to police and I will only pay a little amount to him. In fact, most of them are our friends and [there is] nothing you will get for taking me there.”
In an effort to mitigate the alarming rate of Ebola transmissions in Liberia last year, the Ministry of Transport among other governent sector regulators, mandated that no more than three passengers be taken at the back of a taxi and three on one seat on a minibus.
Furthermore, the Ministry reduced fares of transport in Monrovia and its immediate environs due to low prices of petroleum products, but this particular regulation could not be adhered to as drivers resisted and went on strike on many occasions.
As drivers opposed to this regulation, it may be recalled that early this year, police of Metro 2 arrested a bus driver and some officials of the Federation of Road Transport Union (FRTUL) for skyrocketing fares. The Assistant Minister for Rail and Land Transport, Abu Kamara, was reportedly connected to the scam. It remains unclear what became of the official or whether an investigation was conducted by the Ministry.
When the Press and Public Affairs Department of Ministry of Transport was contacted earlier this week to confirm whether the regulation of three passengers at the back seat of taxis still holds, the contact person, upon hearing the reporter identify himself from the Daily Observer with a question about transport system, angrily reacted without giving any answer to the concerns raised and hung up the phone.