20 December 2012

Cameroon: Insecurity persists in travel agencies

As end-of-year festivities quickly approach, security problems in and around interurban travel agencies have multiplied in form and number.

Emmilienne Tagne, who was to travel by one of the buses in Mboppi Wednesday, lost her luggage, a cell phone and FCFA 20,000 to pick-pocketing and other forms of robbery common with the rising influx of passengers that mark interurban travel agencies during this period. At Douche (Akwa) and Mboppi where there are clusters of such agencies, those hired to load buses scramble for passengers, pulling their bags in all directions without regards for their delicate contents. Even though some offer a minimum level of security, it is still largely insufficient than when offered by private security guards in only few organised agencies. Still, security concerns has never ceased to involve all, including passengers.

Meanwhile, the existence of the agencies around commercial centres has choked roads, endangering the safety of buyers and sellers, pedestrians and the health of city residents who breathe in automobile emissions. Road congestion is a problem in the city as agencies were established along busy roads in tight corners lacking adequate parking space. Bus stops, bus shelters, and other facilities for passengers are scarce and in poor condition. Bus terminals even in organised agencies like in Mboppi are little more than overcrowded parking lots, with no facilities for passengers. Buses fall apart after running overloaded for years on rutted roads; replacements are soon idled for lack of parts.

The reasons behind the dysfunctional state of interurban transport are not difficult to discern. Weak, fragmented, and underfunded proprietors have been unable to maintain existing services or to plan for expansion. As a result, most bus service providers have had difficulty meeting the service demands of passengers, particularly the poor who want to travel at low fares with all facilities provided. Edmond Felix Etoundi, Assistant General Manager of First National Express of Safety (FINEXS) imputes the current situation to fares which are too low, and subsidies too irregular, to permit sustainable operations.

From every indication, Douala being Cameroon's economic capital must move quickly toward the model of the interurban transport used in successful cities around the globe to coordinate planning, regulation, licensing, inspections, monitoring, and enforcement. Observers, however, blame city management for inadequate planning and weak policy enforcement.

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