‘Lima werranteh si yorn bi diganteh daymba ak teye, mussu ma kore werranteh‘, said the apprentice of the van I’d travelled in on my way home from work this evening. A statement I am sure thousands of his compatriots across the country might have thought of or uttered out loud within that period. The cause of these ‘werrantehs’ is quite obvious. At the beginning of this month, “The Gambia National Transport Control Association (GNTCA)… disclosed that it had received approval from the government to increase national transportation fares effective July 11th 2013“. (Source: Daily Observer, O3 July 2013)
It’s the 12th of July today, a day after the increment took effect, and using public transport has been both interesting and frustrating for me. Literate, informed and having mastered the new tariffs, I’d prepared myself with just the right amount of money required for my journey to and from work yesterday. My day was hassle-free and I assumed it would be the same for the rest of my time here. Today came with its surprises, wrapped in apprentice form and delivered to me as early as 9a.m. The journey from Westfield Clinic to Lamin Village, after the D1 increment for that route, now costs D8. After handing my D10 note, I waited patiently for my change and only decided to ask for it upon arrival at my destination. I lost my D2 to an apprentice who, without batting an eyelid, informed me that the fare was D10 and therefore, he owed me nothing. The risk of getting late to work and the fact that it was still early in the morning were enough reasons for me to move on and remind him that he still owed me money and will pay me back where I shall need it the most.
My journey home took a similar form, but ended in my favour, for I had time on my side. I boarded the vehicle and handed over my D10, then sat back and watched the apprentice start and end one argument after the other, with passengers who felt cheated or were simply not aware of the new tariffs. With calmness and a confident look, I turned to him and asked for my change. His attempts to convince me that the fare was D10 failed in the face of my calm, yet firm and insistent reminder that I had read the announcements and knew just how much I had to pay. He reluctantly handed over my D2 and I walked home with a million thoughts and questions floating in my head. I had observed the many arguments that ensued in both cars and had heard similar stories from my colleagues today, which led me to wonder how these situations could have been averted.
The announcement was made at least a week in advance of the increments and I believe this was enough time to spread the word to all those concerned. I am not aware of any opposition to this announcement and I assume the message was well-understood and people knew what to expect. My knowledge of the exact amounts added to the fares gave me a strong case and I was able to walk away without getting involved in any heated arguments. It would probably be a great thing for all passengers to ask questions and have all doubts cleared to avoid being caught in awkward situations or getting cheated by drivers and apprentices who choose to take advantage of the confusion to make some extra change.
One statement that surfaced often in these arguments was “Suma diganteh ak Yalla, ak si werri korr binj neka nee“. Each party used the Holy month to justify their case. The apprentice from this evening refused to show one of the unhappy passengers a copy of the new tariffs, which, I learned, was issued to all drivers. The reasons for his refusal were not made clear, but it led to a series of repetitions of the line mentioned above. This was enough for me to question the credibility of the apprentice’s claims. I reflected on my morning experience and wondered at how comfortably the apprentice had responded to my ‘Baala lu mala ko‘ with a curt ‘jerejeff‘. Like my Aunt would say ‘yawmal qiyaam dina humba teh dagann‘
It is without doubt that many of them will do as they please in the time it will take for people to get used to and understand the new fares. This is probably easy for them as there are no structures or facilities put in place to monitor or regulate the transition from the old fares to the new ones. The GNTCA also issued a warning to drivers charging more than the agreed fares (see Daily Observer article cited earlier). I really hope they stick to their word on this and ensure that no party is put at a disadvantage by their decisions. I also hope the concerned authorities will try to communicate better with the public in these situations to prevent all misunderstanding.
In the spirit of peaceful coexistence and wishes for hassle-free journeys to our various destinations, I wish you all a blessed Ramadan. May Allah accept our fasting and sacrifices and answer our prayers. Amen.