If you haven’t ridden in a trotro, then chale you are missing out in life oo. The trotro (minibus taxis) is the main life force of Ghana, especially in Accra. While trotros exist in other parts of West Africa, I feel the need to boast about my country’s trotro system.
When I first rode in a trotro, I fell in love with the highly decorated, and fast-moving rust bucket on wheels. As an aspiring social scientist, I am always fascinated by the inner workings of society, and am forever observing, and analyzing the things and groups of people I come across.
So when I observed much of the trotro daily workings, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how important this mode of transportation was so important to the inner workings of Ghanaian society.
They provide jobs, cheap mode of transportation around cities and some rural areas, social interaction, creation of shared norms, rituals, rules, systems, and beliefs. It is pretty dope to see all the various religious, ethnic, sports, and cultural slogans posted on the back (and sometimes the sides) of almost every trotro van.
Many times, trotros will be jammed packed with people trying to get to their destination, that means be prepared to sit in a hot tin can with sweaty people, while the trotro mate acrobatically moves about with musty armpits collecting fares. The trotro mates are the real MVPs of the trotro. They hang out the side of the van and yell out destinations “Serk-Serk!” and “Sowutoum-Sowutoum” (trotro destinations) and scout for passengers.
They pack the trotro as much as possible, and let the driver know it’s time to pull off. Then the trotro collects fares from every single person in the van, keeping a good memory of who owes, and who has paid, and diving out change as needed.
Be careful though, in the chaos, the trotro mate might try to rip you off if they think you’re not paying attention, or don’t know the system. The fun I had letting them know how much change I was actually owed.
When the trotro is moving slow through traffic or is at a stand-still, hawkers will pass by with water, juice, soda, and local snacks for you to buy from the window of the van.
Hey, let’s not skip over the trotro drivers either. The way the drivers handle the minibuses and whip them through the crowded streets of Accra avoiding potholes, and narrowly miss hitting pedestrians and other vehicles by mere centimeters sometimes should earn them a spot in the next ‘Fast and Furious’ movie.
The history of the trotro described on the Ghana Web, “The origins of the name Tro-Tro is that Ga language word “tro,” which means three pence (pence being the penny coins used during Ghana’s colonial days). In the colonial days, the mass transit vehicle charged passengers three pence per trip, and thus were referred to as “tro-tros,” and the name have struck ever since”.
Trotro system was created after the first world war, to provide a robust transportation system to the Ghanaian people. These minibuses fill up the city space and can clog up an intersection or market space. Trotros do more than move people from place to place, they also move goods as well.
When my cousin and I were traveling to Kumasi from Accra one day, a few people had boxes loaded in the back to be dropped along various towns along the way. Trotros operate under unions, with the most well-known being the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) which works with the government for license issuances and fare increases.
The trotro system is nothing to play with either, for there have been a few times when trotro crews have went on strike as described in these 2015 and 2016 online articles; Trotro drivers in Accra on strike: give government ultimatum, Trotro Drivers On Strike, and ‘Trotro’ drivers’ strike enters day 2 today.
These strikes further drive home (no pun intended) the very importance trotros have in Ghana’s rising economy, and the effect it can have when it comes to a grinding halt; making trotros a force to be reckoned with.
Upon all of this, because trotros (and taxis) make up a large part of Ghanaian transportation, there is good money to be had. In an online article called, “11 Interesting Facts About The Ghanaian Trotro Mate” the author, Kwaku Darko, explains that depending on the route, and minibus that they are on, the trotro mates alone can make upwards of 100 ($21) cedis-a-day, 3000 ($636) cedis a month if worked all the way through.
That may not seem like a lot when translated into dollars, but in Ghana, especially a big city such as Accra, that’s decent living oo (at least from my perspective).
The trotro is truly a symbol of the people, by the people. So, whenever you’re in Ghana visiting, and you don’t want to pay high price for a taxi, hop on a trotro, and get an authentic experience of the black star nation.