The death late last week of a commuter reportedly following an altercation with a minibus conductor over the decibel level of the music being played inside a bus would not have come as a complete shock to those who are familiar with the seamier side of the minibus ‘culture’. If anything, what the occurrence does is to serve as a reminder of the abyss of urban lawlessness into which we are inexorably sliding – the horrors of the privately-run public transport system being one of several dimensions to that slide – and what increasingly appears to be a lack of will on the part of the forces of law and order to make a serious attempt to retrieve the situation.
As yet we know few details as to what might have been responsible for the death of the commuter though we know that violent altercations between minibus crews and commuters are not unheard of. What we have also come to understand is the appallingly high price that commuters on the whole continue to pay for using a public transport system which, in the main, thrives on a monumental disregard for even the most basic protocols associated with the delivery of an acceptable level of customer service. That, critics say, is a microcosm of a near complete collapse of a mindfulness of standards in several facets of our routine existence.
These days, we accept virtually as a fait accompli that one is unlikely to locate even the remotest mindfulness of customer care in the minibus ‘culture,’ the crews providing the service being, for the most part, far too preoccupied with their contrived and infuriatingly vulgar machismo and with ‘turning a dollar’ literally at any cost, the ugly nature of their dispositions manifesting itself in various hideous forms of unchallenged abuse of consumer rights.
So complete is the grip of intimidation in which these bullies hold their victims that passengers frequently opt to remain silent in the face of the most terrifying displays of reckless driving, opting to risk life and limb rather than risk the tirades of abuse, perhaps worse, that protest might provoke.
But that is not all. Many commuters who have no choice but to use public transport every day must endure the unending pain and misery of deafeningly loud music and must do so without even the slightest hint of protest; then there is the physical discomfort of having to ‘double up’ to facilitate overcrowding. Here again, you protest these infringements of the law at your peril.
Nor for that matter are these issues to which the Minister responsible for Transport pays any significant measure of public attention even though a greater measure of official pro-activeness amounts to a greater measure of empowerment for commuters.
Trying to defend yourself against abusive mini bus crews, to protest against one unacceptable transgression or another, can be a terrifying experience. If and when you opt to voice that protest you begin, often, by anticipating a confrontation with little or no support from other commuters, equally aggrieved but often thoroughly intimidated by their own experiences; frequently, you must back away – humiliated in your efforts to defend your rights as a consumer – in the face of the sheer verbal ferocity of the responses and the threats of worse.
Bullies passing themselves off as minibus crews and who have now imposed their own customer service rule book represent the single most visible and outrageous example of urban consumer abuse. The practice of bullying has persisted for many years in the face of no serious reprimand from the Minister responsible for Transport and the palpable lack of effort on the part of the Police Traffic Department to properly enforce the law, its credentials having been considerably eroded by evidence that corrupt practices has seriously reduced its capacity to become as much a part of the solution as it ought to be. The astonishing frequency of transgressions by minibus crews in the full view of traffic ranks has become disgustingly commonplace, the disposition of indifference on the parts of some police officers even tempting you to conclude that their presence there has nothing at all to do with ensuring that the traffic rules – to say nothing of acceptable standards of customer service – are upheld.
Not a great deal ever gets said about the worsening tyranny of some minibus crews, their utter lack of concern for the well-being of the people who pay their wages and what, in several known instances, has been their preparedness to use verbal and sometimes physical violence as instruments of intimidation designed to still the voices of the few who are still prepared to resist their excesses. Here, it is more than a matter of more commuters raising their game by protesting the tyranny more vigorously. Beyond that, the government itself, through its Minister of Transport and the Police Force through its Traffic Department must come down assertively on the side of thoroughly intimidated and abused consumers. The authorities must either act to salvage consumer rights by pushing back against the worsening tyranny or face the likelihood of eventually having to surrender entirely to that tyranny and the worst of its consequences.