Anbessa Rolls Strong at 70

A birds eye glance at any urban landscape reveals rows and rows of varying symmetry of standing buildings, dissected and crisscrossed by the roads and streets of a city. An aeroplane descending towards an airport could perhaps be the best vantage point to distinguish a city from.

This does not hold true for cities everywhere, however. If a protracted look at the moving fleet on the wide roads, or narrow labyrinths, shows the red and yellow colored trailing city buses among the flowing traffic, for sure that place is nowhere else but Addis Abeba – the ever expanding capital of Ethiopia.

Those buses are none other than the 570-plus strong fleet of motor vehicles rolling under the company name of Anbessa – the indomitable king of the wilderness. Anbessa may well have traced its name from the sign of royalty and power of authority of its founders.

Indeed, Anbessa is still going strong at the age of 70. Those residents who have lived long enough to tell stories about the early years of restoration, after the fascist Italian invasion, would tell us that urbanites had then only five vehicles at their disposal to make city tours or trips with their personal effects, including children. At the beginning, the fare was 15 cents for one trip and 25 cents for a round trip.

Passengers would take their seats and remain seated until the teller, carrying his coin bag, moved around to collect the fares. In those days, travelling by car, unlike horse-drawn carts, was a symbol of modernity and an expression of prestige in its own right.

As the metropolis grew in width and breadth over the years, horse-drawn carts had to be sent away to the peripheries of the capital. The demand for modern city transport modality was growing by leaps and bounds.

The small branch, attached somewhere within the Ministry of Works & Communications (MoWC), had to undergo some kind of reform and be established as a company with some form of identity. Bulk purchases, like 50 or even 100 buses at a time, were made, followed by the drastic measure of organising a well-equipped technical department where the buses were repaired, overhauled and washed.

Anbessa started its services along just five or six lines on the main roads of the city, connecting places mainly with Merkato. Over the years, Anbessa has increased its network to serve several different nooks and crannies in the capital. To date, there are 112 routes covering various places, both within the city and its outskirts. Courtesy of the company, many civil servants residing in small towns, like – Bishoftu, Sebeta, Holleta and Sulultal – can board an Anbessa Bus, in order to travel to the capital for work at a reasonable fare.

The company that begun its services with only five buses has now surpassed the 550 mark. On a daily basis, some 580,000 passengers are served, paying over a million Br on average. These figures can increase further on special days – like traditional holidays – when more members of households make trips to commemorate saints and angels.

Of course, one should make no mistake that all is well in the house of Anbessa, or shall I say, in the cage of the lion.

A traveler cannot count on Anbessa to depart or arrive on time. The very process of billing or collecting fees in itself is time consuming. The ticket conductor peeps through an open window and collects the fair from every traveler before they board or step  on board.

Trust between passengers and collectors does not exist. It is only too obvious to figure out how much money and time is lost at each bus stop. Passengers who are in a rush to get to their offices on time are compelled to either take a taxi or arrive late and bear the consequences.

In the process, there is the possibility that the vehicles could be packed overcapacity and unevenly, negatively affecting the vehicles. Respecting departure and arrival times at each bus stop or terminal is what is significantly lacking.

It is also a weakness on the part of drivers not to use the loudspeaker installed in the bus to inform passengers where to step down, particularly when positions of bus stops are variable, due to the ongoing construction of tramways.

Travelers, packed to the brim of capacity, are subject to theft and embezzlement, en route. There are times when paupers and prodigal beggars try to capture the attention of passengers for no other purpose than listening to the genuine or made up stories of the individual, which culminates in fishing coins or taking money. The usual frame is seeking to “fill in the blank” in money terms.




By Girma Feyissa

Published on June 16, 2013 [ Vol 13 ,No 685]



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