A lot more needs to be done to keep Ethiopia moving according to Birhane Zeru who established the Ethiopian Transport Employers’ Federation (ETEF) with his friends who work in the transport sector. Poor traffic management, inefficient driving license tests, importing used cars, and not enough infrastructure are some of the challenges faced by the sector. Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet sat down with Birhane Zeru , President of ETEF about ways to reduce accidents, improve infrastructure, public and cargo transportation in Ethiopia. Excerpts;
Capital: What led you to establish the Ethiopian Transport Employers’ Federation?
Birhane Zeru: It serves as an important means to modernize transportation services. There are several organizations working to ensure the rights of transport employers are protected and to help us run our businesses the right way. This transport federation is an umbrella group which includes those employing trucks which cross borders, buses, taxis, garbage trucks, dump trucks, cargo trucks and air service providers. We planed to start this ten years ago but there were delays caused by bureaucracy and lack of strong motivation from transport providers. We want to be part of the reform which is occurring in the country by making transportation services better.
Capital: What is your evaluation about the gap between supply and demand regarding transportation services in the country?
Birhane: There are not enough vehicles to serve the population. For example, there are 13,500 cargo trucks in Ethiopia which has a population of 100 million. In Kenya they have 80,000 cargo trucks for 40 million people. Of the 13,500 cargo trucks in the country, most are old and inefficient because they have been used a long time and when they imported they are already used. With regards to public transportation there are long lines for taxis and buses and they are filled with more passengers than they were intended to hold.
Capital: Do you think there is enough infrastructure to provide quality transportation services?
Birhane: There has been an impressive amount of roads built in the last decade and this has shortened driving times for transportation companies. However, there is a lot more to be done. Roads need widened, there need to be more short cuts between destinations, better and more bridges need to be constructed and the roads need to be better maintained. We need better trucks and busses to fit the new roads. Because most of the cars and trucks imported into our country are used they often break down in the middle of traffic. The reason they are allowed to be imported is to increase tax revenue.
But having to spend more on servicing vehicles costs money, it also means more spare parts are needed and more accidents from unsafe cars and trucks. We also don’t have parking space in cities so people park on the sidewalk. This of course increases congestion and creates safety hazards so we have been asking for land to build parking lots and we will continue to push for this as a federation.
Capital: What do you think can be done to alleviate major problems in the transportation industry such as not departing or arriving on time, over volume vehicles and unethical conversations between employees and passengers?
Birhane: Cross boundary busses are not experiencing over volume. However, passengers may get on in the middle of the journey. The passengers must protect their rights. People shouldn’t be kicking people out of their seats. The regulatory bodies have the duty to control the volume of passengers on cross boundary buses. I think punctuality will improve through better management especially at bus stations.
Yes, unethical drivers, helpers and passengers are everywhere but the way to change this is to educate people on the correct methods of providing transport services. As a federation we will give discipline working standards for drivers and helpers and those who will not take the trainings will not be involved in providing services in transport.
Capital: I understand you disagree with the cargo tariff could you explain your thoughts?
Birhane: The last time that government adjusted the tariff of trans- boundary transport was eight years ago. However, there has been high inflation over the past seven years, the price of spare parts, the salary of workers and the value birr to dollar are going up. So how can someone make progresses on the old tariff with the high inflation and current market? We are asking the government at least add a 15 percent tariff adjustment to fill our poor price balance we have not been given a positive response so far. A lot of truck owners have stopped operating and I have a fear that if government doesn’t give appreciation, incentives or a conducive environment for transport services many people will also be out of the sector. The country needs cargo trucks to transport goods.
Capital: How did the unrest in the country affect transport providers?
Birhane: For a while it was hard to get truck transportation and there are still issues with robberies. We need to have riot insurance for situations like this.
Capital: Traffic accidents kill thousands in this country every year, much like a war what can be done to stop this tragedy?
Birhane: We need to improve the licensing system. People have been able to drive trucks without first having experience driving small cars. People often pass their drivers license test when they don’t actually understand how to drive. We also need to develop a better traffic management system, come up with ways to stop speeding, not have as many old cars on the road, stop pedestrians from walking on the side of the road and stop drunk driving.
Capital: How will you address issues that concern employees such as overdriving, no standard salary and lack of pensions?
Birhane: I completely agree that the sector is being hindered by these issues. However, we will begin studying ways to limit the working hours of drivers based on the routes they drive and how to come up with a pension tax for the employers and drivers as well as a minimum wage. But we have to understand also there are also big problems with the drivers, for example some drivers don’t want to work while the trucks are being loaded and unloaded and others ask for an unexpected payment in the middle of their journey and I hope the study also will also come up with solutions to these problems.
Capital: Do you think Ethiopia has the right transport policy?
Birhane: We don’t have a transportation policy. People often get into the business without understanding it. Because we don’t have the proper vision the growth of the transport sector goes up and down. So we need to develop a better transportation policy to have better sustainable growth.