Ifeoma Madukasi is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Transport Corporation of Anambra State (TRACAS). She spoke to National Light crew of Emeka Chiaghanam and Ujunwa Onwukamuche on her efforts to give the organisation a new look, the challenges and sundry transport issues: Excerpts.
What was the idea behind merger of other transport agencies with TRACAS?
Governor Obiano in his wisdom brought Anambra Taxi Scheme, also called City Cabs and Anambra State Mass Transit Bus under TRACAS. Before now, they have been operating separately. The wisdom behind it is that TRACAS is supposed to be public transport system of the state. These other ones, since they are public transport, the governor thought it good to bring them all under one umbrella, for effective management.
What are your plans for TRACAS?
My plan for TRACAS is that it will go in tandem with Governor Obiano’s vision for the organization. It is beyond just a transport organization. We also want to use it to create employment opportunities for the people of the state, besides using the enterprise to advertise the state and improve the state economy.
Governor Obiano wants Anambra State to be the first choice of business destination in Nigeria and when it comes to transport, TRACAS should be the number one. We work hard to maintain safe and serene attitude in our business approach. When it comes to lease of vehicles, we don’t demand much. TRACAS collects the least percentage among other transport companies. Some transport companies’ take 20, 25, some even collect 40 percent. That is why you see people rushing to register with us. We emphasize a lot on safety. We are trying everything we can to make TRACAS the number one transport company for passengers, goods and services.
Before the merger, do the taxis ply any route they like?
Yes, against the government’s wish.
What is the government’s wish?
We have spelt out details on the mode of our operation. The government’s wish is that you ply within southeast region, either on charter on luxury comfort.
Can the leased vehicles ply any route of their choice?
Our leased vehicles are route based. When you register with us, we give you the route to ply. You only register and use our cover but then we must route you accordingly. Supposing you have a fixed route in mind, perhaps, a saturated route, we tell you to exercise patience, so as to find space. We do this because there are viable routes we have just opened. We don’t want a situation where after some time, the person starts complaining.
Who employs the drivers?
Because they are on lease, the owners bring the driver. It is a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. Most people have no idea that TRACAS has no vehicle owed by them. Under the PPP arrangement, we service you for two years and you pay off, the vehicle becomes yours. If the owner still wants to be in the app, they are free to do that. They can be there. We are developing an App like that of Uber, but that does not remove the ownership from you. It helps to have close monitoring, besides helping the owner. After repayment, if you don’t want to join us, you can repaint your vehicle. If you still want to be in the system, good and fine.
Recently, you banned hawking of drugs in your mass transit buses, any reason for that?
You know the mass transit is really for workers, students and those who operate on average budget. Besides, some have cars, but may need to relax from driving. Note that when you board a mass transit, the place is never a market and you did not plan to go to market, then someone or people start hawking on the bus, this brings chaos.
The disturbance of their activities affects the serenity the commuters who want to enjoy. The sellers want to make sure they sell, things could go wrong. People are vulnerable. There could be substandard or adulterated drugs sold to people. You think you are in TRACAS that everything is okay.
We are not limited to hawking of drugs, even preaching is banned. We say don’t preach on our buses, because you know the kind of country we are in. In Anambra State, Governor Obiano doesn’t say Anambra belongs to only Anambra indigenes. To him, ndi Anambra means every one residing in the state. So, what if other religions come and jump in and starts preaching, fight may ensue. That is why we say no to preaching on our buses.
You can hawk and preach within the terminal, but not in the buses. In the buses, you can say a brief prayer before takeoff and that ends there. We want to help the governor maintain the peace that the state has enjoyed so far. Any form of hawking is banned on buses under whatever name or disguise.
But drug hawkers stated that passengers are not complaining, claiming they patronize them
Leaders of the umbrella uniting the association came to my office and I gave them audience. I explained everything to them. You see not only here, go to Lagos, Akwa Ibom, where they operate similar scheme, you board their bus and relax, as if you are taking a drop. Have you taken any of our mass transit buses of recent, they now have radio and televisions just to make things comfortable for commuters. These are things you would want to watch or listen to on buses not the hawkers.
We have malls where you can go for your shopping if you don’t want the open market. The no hawking notice is boldly written inside the buses, but it is not just about hawking of drugs. They came and said they were groups of sellers. I never knew they sell drugs. I feel for them as they made me understand that it is the source of their livelihood, but the order must stand.
Do you intend to extend your routes beyond southeast, besides Port Harcourt?
Before now, we operate outside southeast. We ply Abuja and Lagos.
Let’s assume these are established routes for key players in the industry, are there other routes beside these ones?
Yes, we have added Jos. Even in Abuja, we have more than two terminals and in Lagos, we have three terminals, looking for the fourth one. This is the yearning of our customers. If you are in transport business, you don’t go on loss, even when we have social responsibility. You go where your passengers are. For far north routes, we would have gone but for now, for various reasons, we want to nip that market at the right time and we are putting things in place for that.
We go mainly with our Siena cars, which carry only seven people. These people are business oriented, they are conscious of time. We put this and other things into consideration before we ply any route. Most of the time, the departure time is 4.30am. We do this so that our passengers can get to their destinations on time, do their businesses, and come back that day or the following day, as they wish.
You see we have target before plying any route. We don’t for the sake of plying a route, commit our vehicles the roads. We do it based on demand and need. That’s why whenever we open a new route, you hear them say, ‘this is what we have been yearning for.’
In Awka, do you intend to have more terminals, or you are comfortable with just one?
Even our head office needs a new place. You know everything is money. Government business is meant on social responsibility. So, it is actually the issue of money. If we have money, we would have put our head office in order and use it as our second terminal on this axis. We still want to retain the Zik’s Avenue Terminal.
In this kind of business, immediately, our competitors saw that we opened terminals at Oko, Awkuzu and Igbariam, they felt that we would start looking for space for a new terminal at Zik’s Avenue. They went and lobbied the people against us. But some people are promising us that they are in court with previous tenants and as soon as the case is settled by first quarter of next year, it will be resolved.
Are there plans to open to more terminals in Anambra?
Yes, of recent, we have opened four terminals in Anambra at Igbariam School Gate, Awkuzu, Oko, and planning for the fourth one at Osumoghu. Already we have a terminal at Ihiala.
With the digital revolution going on, are your services felt online?
Our website is almost complete. As I speak to you, In fact, we are test running it. Our website has some foreign technical input, because we want a website that will not have problem in future, unlike what we see with some websites. If you observe the new range of Siena cars parked outside, you will see address on it for our online services. We are just trying to put things in other. We are very careful with that.
We have started giving the address to some people to try. We want their feedback in case they detect any hitch, so that it can be fixed before we commence the online operation. We are doing this before the developers would hands off the project. We are careful to do things properly.
Besides transport business, do you engage in ventures that generate revenue for the organization?
There are activities we want to venture into, which we have presented to Gov Obiano. You can see we are sitting on the workshop. The office complex was razed down before I assumed office. It happened three predecessors before me. The workshop which accommodates the head office is a huge workshop. We are looking at contracting it out. Government vehicles could be serviced here. There are plans for mechanical engineers to come forward.
However, what we do to generate more revenue will revolve around transport business.
We will look into courier services and charter services. Even though we want to make extra money, we still want to remain focused on our primary objective.
What are your challenges so far?
As I told you before, we have office space challenge. Now that reorganization is going, not everyone is happy with that. We are trying to find out where people fit in and put them there. Supposing we have funds at our disposal, most of the things we intend to accomplish would have been completed.
Where do you want the government to come in?
We want the government to beef up our terminals and head office to reflect a 21st century terminals, where you have modern convenience, malls, loading points. For the head office a beautiful landscape will enhance the beauty and productivity of the organization. There is a way you do it that you will be dreaming of boarding TRACAS vehicles.
Do you think there is enough public awareness on your PPP programme?
We have sent people out and intend to send more. I have met some heads of agencies in the state and people I know that can afford to invest in the scheme, by buying Siena cars or buses. Whichever one they can give us, we don’t mind. You can’t stabilize a company like this when you don’t owe a vehicle. Most of the challenges will come from drivers. There could be things like you didn’t buy vehicles for us, why most we do this or that, even when you have it on agreement. They can be unnecessarily stubborn sometimes.
We have 10 Siena cars parked outside and people still want to bring more. We asked to hold on. Let us first use the 10 Siena cars as the pilot scheme and see how it works. It is from there that we know how to advertise the programme that the man on the street can know about it. We want to put things right before we go public. Again, we need to employ drivers. In two days time, we will take some of our drivers to Federal Road Safety Corporation for certification before they start work.
How do you sensitize your drivers on road safety?
We usually send our drivers and safety managers to FRSC seminars and when they come back, they train others. That is how we sensitize our drivers and safety managers on road safety measures. The Ember Months sensitization programme organized by FRSC was flagged off in our Awka terminal.
Do your vehicles have speed limit device installed on them?
You saw men working on the Siena cars that are part of our revalidation programme. We called all vehicle owners for revalidation and that means that each vehicle has everything the law enforcement agencies demand for safety measures. You know these things are federal government directives and must be adhered to. The ones on the PPP arrangement must be fitted with all the required safety measures before they hit the road.
As part of the revalidation programme, we will have our online address and phone numbers on each vehicle. When you are not comfortable with our driver’s conduct, you call the number of the quality control officer and the personnel officer numbers. If any driver is over speeding, you have the numbers to call.
Do you have emergency rescue team?
We have monitoring team on ground to handle emergency. Here we call them monitoring team. They monitor the driver, vehicles and happenings on the road and they are very effective.
What was your perception about public transport before your appointment?
I believe government will do better than individuals will. Anywhere in the world, transport is core to government development plans, otherwise the prices will be at cutthroat. Look at our mass transit, anywhere you are going in Anambra State, it is still N100. So, my perception about public transport is that it should be managed to grow the economy and help the masses. Look at the festive periods, especially Christmas; our prices don’t change, unlike most commercial operators. If all is in the hand of private individuals, your guess will be as good as mine. I commend Governor Willie Obiano for standing by TRACAS,
What would you tell people regarding their expectation of the new look TRACAS?
My message is that ndi Anambra should thank Governor Obiano that dimed it fit by entrusting on me the responsibility to pilot the affairs of TRACAS. I’m equally thanking him for the opportunity to serve, because sometimes, you don’t know what you are capable of doing until you are given the opportunity. I encourage people to patronize TRACAS, it is safe and serene. We are here to give them the best. We have safety, comfort and price going for us. We have not disappointed and we are working hard not to disappoint.