Saturday, March 1, 2014

Tuk-Tuks and Tricycles

The woes and wherewithals of Monrovia's commuters shift along with the changing the means of transportation available to them, in a city that is seems increasingly clogged with traffic week by week. 

In the wake of the government's controversial pehn-pehn ban, which is still in force if not very strictly enforced—the law is holding but is dependent on traffic cops' enthusiasm for pulling over every motorbike with a passenger—the streets of Monrovia have in the last few months featured a vehicle new to the country:  a growing fleet of banana yellow auto rickshaws, which by all appearances seem to have been imported from south Asia. While these tuk-tuks offer more space, more shade and perhaps slightly more safety than the dodge-and-weave pehn-pehns, they take up more space in the choked traffic of the city, and can't slip between bumpers in heavy traffic like a two-wheeled vehicle. But at least they can be on the main streets, whereas passenger motorbikes remain banned.

This is entirely new for Liberia, although the substantial Wikipedia article on tuk-tuks notes that cities in East Africa, Nigeria, and Madagascar all feature auto rickshaws.

Not to be outdone, a more inventive faction of the pehn-pehns army has fought back for market share, by surreptitiously transforming their 2-wheeled motorbikes into three-wheeled, bonneted taxis. The Heritage reports from this week [emphasis added]:
A painstaking investigation conducted by the Independent Authoritative Heritage has established how some motorcyclists are locally transforming their motorcycles into tricycles to enable them ply the main streets in Monrovia and its environs. Motorcycles are widely refereed to here as ‘Pehn-Pehn’, while on the other hand; motorcyclists are called ‘Pehn-Pehn’ riders.    
This latest development comes in the wake of the mass importation of tricycles into the country. The tricycles have since taken the place of motorcycles, which were banned by the Government of Liberia (GOL) late last year  from plying the main streets of Monrovia and its environs. 
The government said it took the action in order to reduce the high rate of accident cases caused by ‘pehn-pehn’ riders. The government’s action also followed an incident which involved a motorcyclist and a bus drive in which the motorcyclist lost his life and the busallegedly set ablaze by some motorcyclists in revenge of the death of their colleagues. 
In the same vein, the motorcyclists were reported to have wounded several police officers, including Col. Darlington George, Deputy Police Commissioner for Operation.
Accordingly, on Tuesday, February 25, 2014, our reporter ran into one of the transformed motorcyclists on Benson Street, Monrovia. The rider, believed to have gone for lunch,  parked the self-made tricycle at the intersection of Gurley and Bensons Streets.
It is not clear whether authorities of the Liberia National Police(LNP) are aware of this made in Liberia tricycles.
But some onlookers, who spoke to our reporter, said they had seen similar made in Liberia tricycles commuting passengers in central  Monrovia without any attempt by traffic police to question the riders.
“These locally made tricycles are different from the imported ones- we do not know why the police are not detecting them. The police are not just serious people in this country. All they do is to run behind cabman for $5 dollars business leaving behind potential threat to citizens,” remarked one of the bystanders.
Beautifully colored with yellow, the cage contained an old safari motorcycle as if it is an imported one.
According to our reporter, the bystanders were seen arguing among themselves that the tricycle was not a locally made one, but rather imported from India, one of the countries where tricycles are common in the transport industry.
The well self-designed tricycle has a distance beauty that convinces anyone that it is being imported from a foreign country. The local manufacturer is reported to have used wheelbarrow tyers at the back of the tricycle, while the front tyer is believed to be the original tyer of the Safari (Honda) motorcycle.
Already plying the streets of central Monrovia, observers say the new technique by motorcyclists is believed to be working well, as there has been no report of police detecting such technique even though their presence is felt at major street intersections downtown Monrovia.
Meanwhile, the government last week announced that there were plans to stop tricycles from plying the main streets in Monrovia and its environs. 
Against this backdrop, the government is cautiously calling on business owners and the general public to stop the importation of the tricycles into the country. 
As in the case of motorcycles, the government pointed out, this is part of its ongoing measures aimed  at protecting lives and properties, as well as reducing accidents cases, mainly in Monrovia and its environs.    
Note how the locally jury-rigged motorbikes are described in such deceptive fashion in both the reporting and by the passengers and by-standers, in contrast to the admiring manner in which the imported 'tricycles' are referred.

This photo ©Heritage Newspaper Liberia

But apparently, the government has noted the new developments, with rumors that even these three-wheeled vehicles, imported or makeshift alike, may be added to the forbidden forms of transportation in Monrovia.

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