By Jude Atupulazi.
Saturday, 14 July, 2018, was a day not to be forgotten in a hurry by passengers using the buses of the Transport Corporation of Anambra State, TRACAS, in Lagos. It was a day drivers of the company embarked on a demonstration against the management of TRACAS Transport Company over some grievances ranging from rebranding of vehicles, revalidation exercise, use of branded T-Shirts, speed limiting devices and introduction of ''okada tickets'', among others.
Their demonstration which shut down normal operations that day, left commuters stranded.
A source who preferred anonymity accused the management of the company of neglecting their welfare, thus exposing them to harassment by the police, FRSC, personnel various task forces, as well as Vehicle Inspection Officers, VIOs.
Speaking on rebranding of their vehicles, our source said the drivers, also, known as TRACAS Pilots, believed that the said rebranding of their vehicles would cause them major setbacks concerning their movement within their respective states of operation, as well as inter-state routes.
On the revalidation exercise on vehicles the drivers claimed that last year, 2017, a revalidation exercise was initiated and completed, in which each vehicle paid the mandated sum of N5,000.
‘Considering the very fact that the management has failed to provide good welfare service for the TRACAS Pilots, the pilots refuse to partake in this so-called 2018 Revalidation Exercise,' our source stated.
On the use of branded T-shirts by TRACAS Pilots, he said that inasmuch as the introduction of branded T-Shirts was good, and cost N2000 per shirt, the pilots would not be able to afford multiple purchases of the said branded shirts, but would rather choose to continue the use of their private shirts in order to maintain their neatness which their customers knew them for.
'The practice of a driver wearing one T-Shirt for three months on a daily basis is considered very unhealthy and un-hygienic,' he said.
On speed limiting device, he said that FRSC had started impounding defaulting vehicles, including the TRACAS pilots, who, he said, were continuously molested, despite making the mandatory payment of N29, 000 per vehicle.
'Our over 800 vehicles made a total payment of N23, 200, 000. Until this very moment, no vehicle has had the required Speed limiter Device installed,' he alleged.
He then accused the TRACAS management of requesting another N25, 000 for the same already paid for Speed limiter Device. This is even as he said the drivers were now requesting for a refund of N4000 from the initial N29, 000 they paid per vehicle.
'It is on this ground that we refuse further intimidation by management in this regard,' he said.
He also faulted the introduction of what he called Okada Ticket, wondering at the benefits of such to both their customers and pilots.
'We, TRACAS Pilots pay the necessary commission as agreed with the management and we refuse further extortion in any form,' he stated.
Fides gathered that the drivers are equally miffed with their management over their lukewarm attitude to improving their services.
One of such is the issue of building terminals which, they said, TRACAS did not have, either in Lagos, Abuja, Awka or Enugu.
The drivers also decried the absence of decent convenience outlets for both drivers and travellers; pointing out that it was what travellers wanted most.
'We make use of bushes and deep gutters as toilets. Even when our pilots travel inter-state, we sleep in our vehicles because there are no terminals provided for us; yet they are cunningly imposing levies on us.
'In Tracas, we have over 800 registered vehicles and each registration costs N40, 000 per vehicle. What are they exactly doing with all the money?' our source queried.
The aggrieved drivers are therefore begging the Anambra State Government to come to their rescue and provide them service terminals at all their destinations. They said that in Lagos alone, they had Alafia, Lekki, Ojo, ikoyi and Amuwo Odofin.
‘Imagine a situation, where a driver is expected to make returns of an average of N35,000 weekly to the vehicle owner, and he has to spend two weeks on an inter-state trip to get back to base; how will you as the owner feel? No vehicle in sight, no returns? Some of our pilots lose their jobs in this regard. But with availability of terminals, this wasting of time will be reduced.
'Last year in Abuja, the task force impounded some of our vehicles and towed them to their office. As a franchise company that promised us protection, nothing was done; not even by the state government. Our drivers were left to pay N50, 000 before their vehicles were released. This is the height of it and it is unacceptable. We cannot continue under this kind of neglect.
Fides also gathered that the drivers who are unhappy with the absence of accident/bereavement benefit for them, are demanding that they be appreciated, even as they expect their management to introduce bereavement benefit/package for them.
When Fides sought the views of the Managing Director, Dr Mrs Ifeoma Madukasi, on the phone, she could not say anything. Repeated calls and a text message to her line, explaining the situation, also failed to yield fruit.