Commercial vehicle drivers in Rivers State have refused to abide by the directive of the state Ministry of Transport to limit the number of passengers they carry to prevent the spread of Coronavirus into the state.
Some of the drivers, who spoke with some journalists complained that the directive was counter-productive as the spread could not be halted by the restriction of the number of passengers in a small bus or taxi, insisting that no distance between two passengers in a bus or taxi was up to six metres, which the social distancing rules effectively recommend.
One of the bus drivers, Maxwell Bassey, who plies Port Harcourt-Aba Road, said the directive by the state Commissioner for Transport, Hon Sam Soni Ejekwu, would not work, as most motorists were unwilling to abandon passengers at bus stops when their cars were empty.
He argued that the social distancing rules may be difficult to apply to commercial vehicle operators, who were struggling to make ends meet in the face of harsh economic realities, and terrible road infrastructure.
Another taxi driver, who plies Mile 3 to Borikiri, complained that a reduction in the number of passengers per car will place serious burden on them, saying that government needs to implement palliative measures to cushion the negative impact of the directive on their business.
He argued that it would be difficult for the drivers to comply fully with the order, saying that they were still buying tickets and paying tolls to police at various stop-and-search checkpoints along the road, in addition to the fact that fares have not gone up.
A tricycle driver, also complained of the high cost of doing the business without carrying full passengers as provided for on the seats.
He argued that after buying tickets and paying police at locations randomly spaced on the roads, it would be impossible for them to realise enough money to settle the ‘Keke’ owners, and still have something left to feed their families at the end of the day.
They also lamented that government had not done enough to motivate them to comply with the directive to carry only two passengers instead of four for tricycle, and three instead of five for taxi, arguing that profits that would be lost as a result of such action will be difficult to recoup.
It would be recalled that the state Commissioner for Transport, Hon Sam Ejeku, had issued a comprehensive directive to guide commercial vehicle drivers in the state to navigate their business without compromising the spread of Coronavirus in the state.
However, some drivers said they will comply only if passengers will agree to pay for the empty spaces or a hike in transport fares.
The commissioner had said, “I am glad to issue this communiqué following the joint meeting between the Ministry of Transport and officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and other stakeholders in the Transport Sector in Rivers State.