“The new policy, point system implementation was sprung on us” Kuru Tessema, president of Walta Taxi Drivers Association told Fortune on Thursday, three days after majority of the mini-bus drivers in the city withdrew their service.
“It was after trying to adjust implementation of the new point system that they gave up and decided to stay out of the business,” he explained, adding, “It won’t be long until they throw me out of it or ask me to pay more than what I get monthly.” He earns 2,500 Br a month.
Some traffic police officers were seen blackmailing drivers and receiving bribes, with references to the data base and the long-term impact of a ticket.
“Before this week one could pay 100 Br bribe and get away with it. Now, one has to pay at least 500 Br in order to save their driver’s licence,” the driver lamented.
A man in his 30’s working in pharmaceuticals sector said he thought implementation of the point system would bring about a change in taxi drivers’ behaviour. Little did he suspect that they would resort to a strike.
“They drive as they wish, as if there is no standard to traffic flow.” He has not given up hope that the new system will bring major change in the traffic flow of the city and considerably decrease the number of accidents.
The first Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP) failed to meet its goal of decreasing the number of fatalities from traffic accidents by 25pc. In a complete turn of events the number of traffic accidents actually increase by eight per cent in the early stages of GTP II.
According to a survey done by the Addis Abeba Police Commission, during the 2013/14 fiscal year, 32.4pc of the 17,904 registered traffic accidents in the capital was caused by drivers with Grade Three licences. These licences, which are the technical equivalent of the Category Three licences established in the 2008 proclamation, allow the holders to operate any vehicles with a capacity of more than eight seats. However, trucks have taken the vanguard in causing more accidents on the road than any other vehicles. To be singled out are the Chinese Sino trucks currently careening around in the city; they accounted for 39pc of the 24,747 accidents that took place which took place in 2014/15. Mini-buses took the next slot by claiming 24.8pc of the share.
One needs an eighth grade education and must be at least 20 to apply for a Category Five driver’s licence while no individual under 24 can hold a Category Three licence, according to the same proclamation.
“This is a priority area that needed an immediate solution,” said Sime Belay, a director at Federal Transport Authority (FTA) Road Traffic Safety Directorate. “We have tried to rehabilitate delinquent drivers for some time without successful results, but nothing brought the change.”
The City’s move to implement the traffic point system is not new in the country. It has come after Amhara, Tigray and Oromia regions. All have used the system for more than a year and no resistance has been experienced in any of the above.
Though Kuru claims that associations have not been consulted anew, it is only the implementation instruments and tools that are new in the area and not the essence.
The measures implemented in the last week were put into force five years ago under Regulation No. 208/2011 for Road Transport & Traffic Control.
The Regulation categorizes offences and the number of violations committed at different times. Offenses committed for the first time, attract a fine of 80 Br to 180 Br, depending on the category of offenses. Offences with a point value level from 2-13 are tolerated with a maximum fine of 240 Br. When point levels aggregate from 14 to 16, the driver’s licence should be suspended for six months and he/she be sent for rehabilitation training.
When the point level reaches 17 to 19 suspension time increases to one year. The fate of a driver, who commits up to 20 level points will result in revocation of his/her licence. Once revoked the driver can get a new licence only after two years.
“What we have done now is simply facilitate the proper observation of the law – increasing punishment progressively,” said Sime.
The new national data centre keeps record of all offences at a country level and is accessible by the federal authority as well as by regional bureaus. A local firm, Cuspur Computing Plc, developed the software for the national data center at a cost of 1.2 million Br, which is fully financed from the budget of the Authority.
Lehulu Kifya another private company running a unified billing system, will take over the next stage – collecting fines. Traffic offenders who are given a ticket can go to any payment station in the city and pay their fines in their 31 branches throughout the city- a much higher number than the existing less than ten centres in place.
Simplicity has been facilitated not only for those paying fines, but for the traffic police who find it tiring and difficult to keep track of unruly drivers.
DAF-TEC Social ICT solutions has developed a software system that sets up a traffic operations centre, in order to direct the traffic management with modern knowledge and technology support.
The software keeps a record of the traffic police officer and the transport officials who regulate the process. Traffic police and transport officials use mobile phones to punish drivers. The way it works according to Social Beyene, general manager and co-founder of the company, traffic police dial 8584 to access the system with a specific password, to input details including licence number of the driver and type of offence at the spot. The details of the offence, the area, and the details of the driver, the name of the traffic police officer and the plate number of the vehicle will be registered on the website. Data will be accessible to drivers too, in case they want to appeal their case.
With all this seamless technology-based support, some still see that a solution to road safety problems remains on the horizon.
For Demelash Abebe, owner of Goodyear Drivers’ License Training Institute, the solutions are good, yet only half-full to bring about fundamental change.
“It is good start, we need such technologies help in curbing the problem,” he said, “but one needs to work on the software of humans.”
The curriculum Demelash and other training institutions use have narrow and superficial scope when it comes to shaping the behaviour of would-be drivers. No special chapter and testing mechanism is introduced on the system.
“The situation is worse particularly when it comes to those trained for Category Three, which is required to drive public transportation – the blue and white vehicles.”
From his experience those that study this category are very young and often do not pass the written exams.
“I find it no surprise when most accidents are registered by taxi drivers,” Demelash said. “They have serious challenges in doing the exams too.”
Drivers’ licence training institutes that are licensed by FTA are assessed annually for certification. One of the indicators according to Demelash is having a 70pc student pass rate.
“This opens a gate for compromised quality,” he said. “One has to do whatever it takes to register a 70pc pass, or lose the business.”
Taxi drivers on their side believe it is unfair.
“The whole system does not make sense” a taxi driver decried, throwing his hands up in the air.
He bases his arguments on proportionality.
“Taxis cover an average of 100km per day, as opposed to private cars,” he said. “Imposing same rule is unfair.”
Another driver on the Saris-Stadium route claims, “Most traffic police officers have a biased attitude that only taxi drivers are at fault.”
For him and his friends, the problem stems from road quality and size, low passenger fares and other issues.
Ras Mekonnen Street, alongside Lalibella restaurant around Stadium was a practical example for many.
“The space allowed for stop to board and get off, can only accommodate 10-12 taxis, but the number of taxis dispatched is much higher than that. At any point in time you might find more than 20 taxis parked,” he argued.
While arguments are thrown from one corner to the other people continue to die on the road and have their property damaged or lost.
According to a World Health Organization’s report, published in April 2014, traffic accidents in Ethiopia account for the deaths of 37.28 persons per 100,000. With such statistics, Ethiopia stands 12th in the world ranking of death from car accidents.
The mini-bus strike on Monday, February 29, by the blue and white taxis took the move to implement the system one step back.
After being implemented for a week since February 22, in response to the strike, implementation of the system has been postponed for three months, owing to the lack of necessary traffic signals, passenger loading as well as parking areas for vehicles, Sime listed
The actions Sime identified as measures to be taken during the three months, is far less than the concerns raised, indicating no more brighter future.
“The attitude has to shift from punitive to preventive,” Demelash said. “Rigorous work has to be done before the fact – before one gets a licence to drive.”
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