Liberia: House Moves to Regulate Tricycles and Motorbikes Riding

Liberia: House Moves to Regulate Tricycles and Motorbikes Riding

The House of Representatives has begun debating the possibility of regulating the motorcycles and tricycles federation as the country reckons with serious violations of transport policies and regulation through these specific modes of transport.

The House’s effort, which has been quietly in the works for some time, has been fueled by concerns of reckless driving, a high rate of accidents, and limited respect for regulations and safety measures among the vast majority of the country’s motorcyclists and tricyclists.

Those concerns have been exacerbated as the country grapples with cases of mob violence whenever a deadly accident occurs, in which motorbike riders or tricyclists die. In response, they usually burn the vehicle in question.

“Distinguished colleagues, this act, when enacted into law will ensure that all government transport policies and regulations are adhered to by the motorcycles and tricycles operations in Liberia, as well as contribute to the development of the economic, social, and cultural welfare of its members in particular,” argued Representative Frank Foko, who is pushing for the unionization.

Rep. Foko, whose communication is pushing for the passage of the National Federation of Motorcycles and Tricycles of Liberia (NAFOMTAL) Act, has been unanimously endorsed by his colleagues and forwarded to the House Joint Committee on Transportation and Judiciary for scrutiny.

The House’s decision, which is expected after their ongoing Easter Break, is about taking responsibility to increase safety among motorcyclists and tricyclists, as well as looking at regulatory enforcement, the legal instrument for commercial purposes, and overall, institutionalize and synchronize their operations activities in Liberia.

Motorcycling emerged after Liberia’s civil war as a critical economic sub-sector providing economic livelihood opportunities for many of the country’s jobless population.

Liberia's Ministry of Transport estimates that there were around 500,000 drivers in the country, as of 2012. They earn between $6 -20 per day, in a country where the minimum wage of $6 a day — is helping to formalize a flourishing trade — providing access to markets, education, and health facilities for millions of Liberia days.

Known locally as ‘pem-pems’, a name that comes from the sound of their constant horn blowing — these motorcyclists face critical challenges often unaddressed by development assistance: health and safety threats, police harassment, and ongoing, serious social stigmatization.

Riding them can be a hazardous ordeal. There are few traffic lights in the country and many commercially service the rural areas of Liberia, where roads are poor. The increasing demand for motorcycle transport has also led to an increase in accidents, not just death but disability among young people in Liberia. In 2018, a survey report from the Ministry of Health said disability among our people in post-war was about 16% a lot of motorbike riders and passengers becomes incapacitated and confined to wheelchairs or paralyze because of motorcycle-related accidents.

Some carry up to five people when they are only meant to take two – taking advantage of its standing as the main mode of transport in Liberia. They have a reputation for dangerous driving and theft including snatching bags. In the past, they have been banned by the Liberia National police from accessing main streets and the capacity of Monrovia as a result of riding recklessly, which causes accidents.

 Despite these, the motorbike transport business is profitable, and it creates jobs for thousands of Liberians in the informal sector — many of whom could have been jobless without it. But riders face critical challenges. They are often unaddressed by development assistance: health and safety threats, police harassment, and ongoing, serious social stigmatization.

As for tricycle, it is relatively new and widely needed for intra-city commercial transport systems with swarms of them almost where in Montserrado County. They are mostly in yellow, noisy, and slightly dangerous – with riders in most cases to take opposite lanes, in flagrant abuse of the country’s vehicle and traffic law.

Yet, they still provide cheap public transport - and a livelihood for tens of thousands of their drivers.

According to House, the Joint Committee will be looking into the ‘applications’ of tricycles and motorcycles, including minimum for riding in the street; violations; impounding; suspension of riding privileges, and penalties. The Joint Committee will also be looking at the issue of license requirement; manner of riding; parking, compulsory helmet, passengers, and goods requirements.  

 If the House approved the NAFOMTAL Act and then concurred by the Senate, it will apply to every person operating a motorcycle or tricycle and mandate them to obey the instructions of official traffic control devices and signals applicable to vehicles, unless otherwise directed by a police officer regardless of operation areas.

Monrovia, which has a population of more than a million, has few roads which are in a bad condition and most residents rely on motorcycle taxis because it is easy to get around on them. There are few buses and no rail network in the city.