The demand for public transport to regional towns and cities increases exponentially during holiday periods. An example of this has been witnessed during the recent Ethiopian New Year, with an additional 43,419 passengers leaving the capital's four major bus terminals. Although there has been an increase in service provision from both the private and public sectors, the capacity is still insufficient in meeting the demand. This has led to a number of people being left disappointed, as they queue for several days to find transport to meet up with their families for the celebration, reports FASIKA TADESSE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
On the afternoon of Monday, September 8, 2013, Lemlem Boshera, 26, was at the ticket office of Selam Bus Line S.C, located in front of Meskel Square. She was queuing to buy a ticket to Nekemt, where she would be spending the New Year holiday with her parents, as she had done for the past five years, since graduating from college and getting a job at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) in Modjo, 73kms south-east of Addis Abeba.
She has learned from experience that getting a ticket becomes tougher as the holiday approaches, so she came to Addis Abeba four days early.
“I went to the Asko Bus Terminal early in the morning, but I could not find any bus. I returned home after waiting for three hours,” she said.
Unfortunately her second choice, which is more expensive, would not bear fruit either, as she was informed that all tickets were sold days ahead on Friday September 5, 2014.
The Ethiopian holidays see a boom in demand for transport to regional towns, as several thousands of people, such as Lemlem, need to join their families.
There are five bus terminals in Addis Abeba, all controlled by the Federal Transport Authority (FTA), serving passengers traveling in four different directions to all parts of the country. Two of the terminals are located at Merkato in Addis Ketema District – the larger Ager Akuarach for long distance travels to parts of Amhara, such as Gojjam and Gonder, and the smaller Addis Ketema for towns closer by, such as Wolisso and Welqite in the Guraghe zone.
The other three terminals are located closer to the outskirts of the city at exit points. The Lamberet terminal serves routes to the northern parts of the country, such as Wello and Tigray, the Asko Terminal to western parts and the Kality terminal eastern and parts of the south.
On the sunny afternoon of Wednesday, September 9, 2014, Sara Ayalew was at the Kality terminal to travel to her home town Hawassa, the southern regional capital 273kms from Addis Abeba. She was standing in a long queue, waiting for a seat in a minibus.
“What makes it worse more than waiting for several hours is that they charge us 150 Br, whereas the normal tariff is only 90 Br,” she said.
On normal days, the officers at the Kality terminal issue 790 departure permits for long, medium and small vehicles leaving with passengers; on the days before the new year, September 6 to 10, the permits issued every day jumped to over 2,000, with the total number of passengers carried more than doubling to over 32,000, according to the FTA.
“The crowed of passengers during these days becomes larger even in the afternoons,” says Endale Dessalegne, public transport deployment & control coordinator of the terminal.
The management of the terminal is trying to facilitate the transport service by diverting vehicles from small demand areas and allowing them to charge 35pc to 50 pc more, according to Endale, which happened after the terminal’s managers and the representatives of public transport association discussed 15 days ahead of the holiday.
The extra payment passengers are charged as holidays approach is endorsed by a directive the FTA issued in 2012, says Demisew Mekuria, director of public transportation services at the Authority. The Hawassa passengers were paying 67pc more.
The directive allows an additional price on the normal tariff, with the assumption that the buses could return empty after dropping their passengers at their destinations, says Demessew.
Beyond additional deployments, office workers of the Authority joined the workers at the terminal to manage the unusually high number of people and vehicles, according to Abeleneh Agedew, head of Promotions & Public Relations at the Authority.
At the Lamberet Bus Terminal, 55 long buses and 130 medium and small buses are deployed by the terminal on a daily basis to destinations in Amhara, Oromia and Tigray, with the most distant destination being Shire Endaselassie, 1,087 km north in Tigray. The buses transport 10,784 passengers everyday on 34 routes. But, in the five days of the thirteenth month of pagume, an additional 54 vehicles were deployed, transporting an additional 3,240 passengers a day.
The other main terminal that saw a high flow of passenger in the five days was Ager Akuarche, with 12,100 additional passengers in addition to the 7,000 passengers it usually serves.
Unlike the other four terminals, the Addis Ketema Bus terminal was serving passengers and deploying buses by the same quantity as casual days. It deploys 638 vehicles to transport 11,613 passengers on a daily bases.
On Tuesday September 9, 2014 at the gate of the Lamberet Terminal there were many people shoving furiously to buy tickets from the windows of the Associations at the gate.
In total, the four busy bus terminals transport 43,419 additional passengers within the five days. According to the Authority, there are 369 transport routes across the country. Of these, 139 are served by transport buses with more than 47 seats. There are 1,014 such buses operating on these routes, as well as 42 buses, labeled ‘special buses’ by the Authority from companies such as Selam Bus S.C, Limalimo Transport S.C and Sky Bus Transport System S.C.
For one of the private transporters, Selam, the holiday seasons allow them to use their full capacity, which is 87pc on the casual days, according to Abebe Ayalew, deputy general manger of the company.
“The business is slow for five months from October to February, so we usually compensate during the holidays,” he said.
Selam Bus, which was established in 1995 by the Tigray Development Association (TDA) with 13 million Br capital and 25 buses, currently has 2,500 shareholders and 67 million Br in paid up capital. It serves 16 routes with 55 buses, each having 48 or 51 seats.
For the holiday, the company added more buses on routes with increased passenger numbers, according to Wolady Kidanu, general manager of the company. These routes included Mekelle, which got one more bus than the usual three, and Hawassa, Bahir Dar and Gonder, all of which got one more bus than their usual one.
All tickets were sold five days ahead of schedule, Abebe said, and the company was selling tickets for those who will return to the country they came from to Addis Abeba for the holiday.
According to some transporters Fortune talked to, the Ethiopian Easter is the major holiday with the largest increase in demand for transport, followed by the New Year, Christmas and EID.
Even though we bought 25 buses in June 2013, we still have a problem in satisfying the demand of the people, said Wolady.
In addition to Selam Bus, the other private company, Sky Bus Transport System, is operating in the sector. Sky Bus was established in March 15, 2008, by 3,400 shareholders, with a registered capital of 60 million Br. It is currently giving service to eight major destinations with 14 buses. The other private transporter, Limalimo, is operating with 10 vehicles, and the state-owned Waliya Transport Enterprise operates with its 14 vehicles.
During the last two years to encourage the private vehicles owners to add new vehicles to the sector, the Authority has introduced levels for the vehicles based on the models of the vehicle and the year of manufacture, according to Demissew.
“We have three levels which have a different tariffs,” said Demissew. ” The price is less for the lower levels, so the private owners start buying new vehicles.”
In 2012, there were only 62 Level One vehicles, which grew to 600 by 2013/14; that same year, the number of Level Two and Three buses were 400 and 92, respectively. These buses are organised under 21 owners associations, according to data from the Authority. Beyond the cross country buses, there are around 20,000 short and middle vehicles, with seat capacities of 11 to 44.
The Authority was fining drivers who declined an assignment on busy routes 1,000Br, but sees a more long term solution by changing the owner associations to share companies with stronger capacities. While that may happen at some time in the future, in the more immediate now, a desperate Lemlem was planning to make another attempt at the Asko terminal on her third day in Addis Abeba.
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