Ch5: Commercial driving

Chap. 5: Business on wonky wheels - The chances and challenges of being a commercial driver

  • Careless drivers: Reputation, accusations and counter-reactions
  • Station relations: The pressures and prospects of networks and connections
  • Striving for successful driving
The first chapter on commercial driving explores the chances and challenges of working in the transport business. Focusing on minibus drivers plying between Accra and provincial towns located on the AKR, I first deal with the professional drivers’ negative public reputation (‘careless, uneducated, greedy’) while also looking at how drivers justify some of the behaviour for which they are criticised. This leads on to an assessment of drivers’ pressuring work conditions and of the mostly conflictual relationships in which they are caught with their driver colleagues and ‘masters’ (car owners, employers). Finally, I explore the multiple various entrepreneurial strategies that drivers employ in order to cope with the pressures and to strive for more successful driving. The latter requires careful negotiation of driving plans, routes and different modes of loading passengers.

[Overview Chapter 5]

„They like bribes too much“

07-02-06I waited for five hours with Edwin at the CMB bus station (central Accra) until it was his turn for loading. In addition to the 21 passengers his Benz bus had to swallow a huge amount of commercial goods. Incredible how they managed to stow it all away. For taking people’s baggage Edwin could collect 85.000 Cedis extra. But 5.000 had to be left behind at the police checkpoint behind Accra. Preventing the policeman from stopping our vehicle and from discovering that we are overloaded, he was given a bribe: When approaching, the mate quickly slipped a note into the policeman’s hand. “Fast!”, a woman sitting behind the driver commented with some appreciation. Avoiding an inspection means avoiding a penalty – but means above all getting home earlier. The latter suits all travellers, in particular when travelling in the evening, in the dark.

Actually Edwin dislikes giving bribes, especially when he knows that his vehicle and papers are alright. Even in this case some of his driver colleagues pay at police checkpoints. For a quicker continuation of their journey. But ... [more]

Bus station kiosk (I)

mini-06-08-24_08This gentleman makes sure that all taxi and bus drivers properly pay the parking fee (yellow tickets) for the Kyebi bus station. If they have done so, he will kindly lower the rope for the drivers to be able to hit the road. You just can’t imagine how many times there have been fierce arguments at this station exit because a driver was either not willing to pay – or because his registration number has not yet been put written on the white slip of paper, though of course he has already paid. A huge fuss about little sums.

On the road with Flipa

Anyinam lorry station, GPRTU office

The one with the light shirt is Flipa. He has been my field assistant for a little more than a month now and helps me with contacting people, visiting lorry stations, travelling on the Accra-Kumasi road, observing drivers and travellers and of course with taking notes. Here you see him conversing with officers of Ghana’s most important drivers’ unions, the GPRTU (Ghana Private Road Transport Union). They make sure that operations in and around taxi/lorry stations run smoothly.
Flipa also translates into English when things get too complicated for me in Twi. In return, I let him know what has been written on some of these vehicles which have been imported secondhand from Germany. We both think it’s quite amusing that, nowadays, this transporter from Günter Braun’s Schreinerei doesn’t carry wooden furniture over Ghana’s roads any longer but rather 24 sweating passengers.
The other day I liked Flipa’s methodological reflections on doing fieldwork among commercial drivers. He suggested that we could invite our informants for a beer or two, which is likely to make them talk more and freely. I guess such assisted conversations should rather take place in the evening or on days off the road.

'Apapem taxi drivers' at Kyebi station


Experiencing the Accra-Kumasi Road (AKR):

An ethnographic project on roads, commercial driving and everyday travel in Ghana [more]

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Ch1: Accra-Kumasi Road
Ch2: Inhabiting the roadside
Ch3: Road travelling
Ch4: Passenger's body
Ch5: Commercial driving
Ch6: Roadfaring skills
ChX: Religion on the road
newspaper articles
other road projects
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