The sudden ban imposed on commercial motorcyclists from the main streets of Monrovia and its environs is generating mixed reactions from different sectors of the public. For some, it is the most convenient means around the city. What should take about 20 to 30 minutes on foot by car getting across central Monrovia, takes less than 10 minutes via commercial motorcycle. With this medium of transport contributing to the speed of business, while providing employment for thousands of youth around the country, there are some strong economic imperatives in favor of commercial motorcycles.
As enticing as the argument in favor of may sound, the state of affairs regarding commercial motorcycles in Liberia continues to dismally fail the “safety-first” test. Given the incredibly high rates of injury and death as well as the very alarming instances of mob violence resulting from accidents involving commercial motorcyclists, it is hard for anyone to believe that the economic imperatives – whatever they are – should be worth the risk. The continuous reckless and lawless conduct of many commercial motorcyclists does not reflect the Liberia we say has achieved 10 years at peace.
So, with the latest most impudent mob attack that set ablaze a commercial bus because it was involved in a tragic accident with a commercial motorcyclist, the Government of Liberia, through the National Police, decided to act.
But is this the right move? The Daily Observer has been gathering feedback from a cross-section of commuters who suggest that sanctions prohibiting motorcyclists from plying the main roads is a step in the right direction.
However, it is important to note that whatever measures the police decide to take may be short-lived until the system that governs the conduct of motor vehicles and operators is optimized to serve the safety needs of the public while facilitating the commercial interests of operators.
It has little to do with location. Would it fundamentally change anything to restrict commercial motorcyclists to the suburbs and back roads going into the communities? Will there be less instances of motorcycle accidents or related violence in Barnersville where commuters live, than on Broad Street where many of the same people work? The relevant authorities need to restrict access to a motorcycle, not where one can go with a motorcycle. Restricting access, in this case, means ensuring that all motorcycles are properly registered, insured and operated by drivers that are trained, licensed and equipped (with helmets, etc). This way, not every Tom, Dick and Harry can jump on a motorbike at the age of 16 and think he’s entitled to “freedom of movement” with the vehicle he’s operating.
There are other serious issues. Many of the commercial motorcyclists plying the streets of Monrovia are foreigners who hardly speak English and hardly know their way around. They enter Liberia in throngs daily and immediately take up jobs as commercial bikers. Is the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization monitoring this development? Who is hosting them? Do they have residence and work permits? What are the national security implications in this regard?
Also, police officers at certain check-points around the city tend to be more concerned about the small-small donations they can beg or extract from drivers than they are about the safety and security inspections they are mandated to perform on vehicles passing through their posts. As a result, a 100 LD could go a long way in facilitating criminal activity under the guise of perceived charity.
It is our hope that all relevant functionaries of government will get fully involved and not leave the job entirely to the Liberia National Police. So far, we have yet to hear from the Ministry of Transport addressing the issue of safety, especially where motorcyclists are concerned. Why is it taking so long for the Government of Liberia to require all motor vehicles to be insured and for all drivers to be properly licensed? Is it possible to include special lanes for motorcycles on all roads, since new ones are being built? Can the Ministry of Public Works weigh in on this?
With the new restrictions against commercial motorcycles in certain parts, it is expected that many youth will soon be out of jobs and will need to develop their skills in other areas to be able to provide for themselves and their families. Are there vocational training centers ready to absorb them?
As many have opined, the action of the LNP may be long overdue. Some even wish the restriction to be permanent. Let the Government consider the situation from all possible angles and come up with a holistic strategy – an improved system – to administrate and regulate motor vehicular traffic in Monrovia with a vision to extend nationwide. There are plenty of best practices in other countries for us to learn from; so there’s no need to re-invent the wheel.