By J. Karbar
The Federation of Road Transport Union of Liberia (FRTUL) and its lesser known offshoot, the Genuine Transport Union of Liberia (G-TUL), have been accused of failing both its members and the general public. Unions, whether of labor, industry, agriculture, trade or otherwise, are not only formed to enhance the bargaining powers of its members, but to also influence legislation that would benefit them. But not so the FRTUL and the G-TUL.
According to many drivers of commercial vehicles, the leadership of the drivers’ union is only interested in collecting money. They say they don’t see where their money is going or for that matter what is done with it. They complain that the unions do not come to their aid when they run afoul of the police. In Liberia, where more than half of the vehicles plying the streets are uninsured, this is a daunting challenge – especially in cases of accidents, fatal or otherwise. According to one driver, that is why many drivers flee the accident scene and go in hiding. They also claim that whenever they breakdown on the highways, they have to fend off angry passengers, some of whom demand a refund which usually is not forthcoming because the union collects its fees upfront; the fare of one passenger per vehicle is collected before the vehicle is allowed to leave the parking lot. It matters not how many trips you make; if you make a hundred trips a day, you pay a hundred times.
On the other hand, passengers complain that the unions’ first-come-first-serve policy robs them of any right to choose the vehicle they like. The policy encourages vehicle owners to be lax with vehicle safety and maintenance. If a 1980 model vehicle, rickety, with smooth tires and bad breaks/clutch is the first in line, it must get loaded and be off before any other vehicle can be boarded. This means it’s the old car owners and union officials and workers who are the principal beneficiaries of the drivers’ union plus some corrupt government officials who have oversight responsibility for the drivers’ unions. A former FRTUL Union president told me on condition of anonymity that every time a new transport minister takes office, they present him with a Heineken carton full of Liberian dollars. Meanwhile, long distance passengers continue to spend days on the road to get from one point of the country to another, not necessarily because of bad roads, but many times also because of vehicle failure.
Sadly, some people in power have figured out how to make money with a tow truck but no one has thought about making sure the driver’s union have a standby relief/rescue vehicle at its major hubs to assist in moving passengers forward and to assist in repairing broken-down vehicles. This past Christmas season we passed a truck which broke down on a hill in Lofa between Voinjama and Kolahum. On our way back to Monrovia, after New Year, we passed the same truck in the same position on the hill – a waste of resource.
Red Light – Paynesville
This is now probably the biggest market in Liberia, home to the FRTUL and the G-TUL. Note how filthy the FRTUL main terminal and parking ground is with garbage; the saying is: “hold your nose and pass.” Meanwhile, “cold bowl sellers” ply their trade and travelers eat sitting right next to piles of garbage.
“Aye man, will we never learn? Do the unions even have their own parking lot?”