Traveling the Trotro

Traveling the Trotro

I have been spoiled. I will readily admit it. Having lived in Seattle off and on since 1982, I have gotten used to their excellent public transportation system. Of course, if you have never lived anywhere else, you might have a lot to complain about with King County Metro. But I have grown up with the unpredictability of Chicago buses, where you can wait for 30 minutes in sub-zero temperatures, only to have four buses come at once, all of them full. And I have lived in New York City, with three non-transferable expensive systems. And I have commuted to work in D.C., in San Francisco, and in Atlanta, and in some of those places they claim to have a schedule, with very little accuracy. But in Seattle, you can call and get an arrival time or help if you’re lost, and you can even go online to find out exactly when your bus arrives! Like I say, I have definitely been spoiled.

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So in coming to Ghana, I expected to find a public transportation system that I could at least relate to. But I was not prepared — no, I could not imagine – what adventures awaited me in the form of “public transportation” here. The method is strange, and its name is the trotro.
First of all, what exactly is a trotro? A trotro is a term that refers to some public transportation in Ghana, often in the form of vans, mini-vans, or other multi-seating vehicles. Most likely it is a van that seats 2 next to the driver, then in the next row, another 3 with drop-down seat for 4 in the next row, and 3 or 4 in the back row, which can be hailed at various unmarked points along the road. They are often beat up, both inside and outside, and normally I would not even consider getting into one. But hey, this is Africa, and trotros offer a cheap and fairly efficient way to get around Ghana. But with no set schedule or route map, you’ve got to become familiar with its informal ways.

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Trotros have set routes. In most cities and towns they travel along all the major streets and are easy to find. Just pay attention when they go by, and you will soon be able to tell where their stops are, usually near intersections or at various places along major routes. There are also trotro stations where you can find them queued up for various destinations. They are very noticeable because you will see the “mate” or helper leaning far out of the window waving and yelling out the destination. Or you can just flag one down along the main road. Local trotros make frequent stops, so the trick is also knowing your destination’s name, because many of the mates do not speak English.

Why are they called Trotros? Tro is an old Ga (northern Ghana area) word for 3 pence, the unit of currency during the British rule and what it used to cost for a single ride. The fares are now a bit more than a couple of pence, but still very cheap from one point to the other.

Personally, I love trotros. I love the ride, I love the adventure, I love the characters that ride with me, and I love the scenery of the neighborhoods. Mostly it’s a peaceful journey. But when something happens — either negatively or positively — that gets everyone’s interest, well then, the voices rise and fall in celebration or protest, and the ride is anything but quiet! Still, it’s one of the many adventures of Ghana!