Feature

Peace Mass Transit: Redefining Safety Standards in Road Transportation

peace-mass1

Nigeria is among countries with the highest accident rates in the world. This is no cheering news to a country that is beset by a myriad of problems, chief among which are insecurity, poverty and underdevelopment.

Available statistics show that 65 per cent of accidents in the country involve commercial vehicles and, traced further, are attributed to poor state of vehicles, carelessness and, in many cases, ignorance of traffic regulations on the part of drivers.

It is not difficult to link a higher percentage of accidents caused by poor state of vehicles to small-time commercial transportation operators who cannot afford brand new vehicles, in a country that has become the dumping ground for fairly-used vehicles that cannot be allowed in their countries of manufacture. But while big transport companies with fleets of brand new vehicles may not be guilty of operating with dilapidated vehicles, their drivers can’t be absolved of blame in accidents that are attributable to human error, like carelessness, ignorance of traffic regulations, including observance of speed limits in the breach and, in many cases, drunkenness.

For the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), stemming the tide of high accident rate in the country has remained a daunting task. The organization has had to device different means of reducing the daily carnage on the roads. The latest of such initiative is the compulsory installation of speed limiter in commercial vehicles, which takes effect from October 1, 2016.

Peace Mass Transit (PMT), one of Nigeria’s biggest transport companies, has gone a step forward to contribute to the effort to improve the country’s unenviable accident record. As part of strategy to distinguish its operations in area of safety measures, the company recently took the entire 3,000 drivers in its workforce back to the classroom for a refresher course on road safety.

 

Defensive Driving Campaign

On Thursday, July 7, 2016, PMT  launched what it tagged “Defensive Driving Campaign” at its corporate headquarters in Enugu, the Enugu State capital, to keep its drivers abreast of road safety techniques, with a view to contributing to the effort to reduce the rate of road accidents in the country to the barest minimum. The one-month programme involved intense retraining that saw all its drivers being recertified in road safety measures.

“In order to retain the full confidence of the general public who patronize our services, we have decided to retrain our drivers on defensive driving in conjunction with the Federal Road Safety Corps and some consultant psychologists”,  Sam Onyishi, chairman and chief executive officer of Peace Mass Transit, said at the event.

He said the exercise was one of the many measures the company has adopted over the years to improve its safety record, to ensure avoidable accidents involving the company’s vehicles do not occur. Other procedures the company regularly adopts to ensure it maintains a good safety record include background checks of its would-be drivers for drug-related activities, possession of valid driver’s license, certificate of good eyesight and professional driving experience of not less than five years.

Beyond the routine requirements for drivers seeking to join its workforce, PMT uniquely has preference for married men for the onerous task of running its fleet of vehicles. This stems from the belief that they tend to exhibit a higher degree of responsibility while driving, since they are always conscious of the number of people that stand to suffer the consequences of their error or carelessness.

The company also has in place a patrol team that monitors its buses on its routes all over the country, and carries out on-the-spot assessment of drivers’ performance, with feedback from passengers. The teams are strategically located to intervene in cases of vehicle breakdown, accident or unforeseen circumstances that could disrupt the journey, and is also trained to offer first aid treatment in cases involving accidents.

 

Pioneering role on speed limiter

Onyishi’s commitment to road safety is evident in the fact that he pioneered installation of speed limiter in commercial vehicles as far back as 2009. The device was commissioned by Osita Chidoka, the then corps marshal and chief executive officer of FRSC. Indeed, Onyishi, it was, who introduced the device to the corps, with a suggestion to adapt it for use all over the country.    For him, therefore, the October 1 deadline for the commencement of the compulsory installation of the device in commercial vehicles by FRSC is nothing new. It is a national adaptation of a system that has been in place in his company for seven years.

Installation of speed limiter in its fleet of buses, rigorous recruitment procedures and strict adherence to traffic regulations have seen the company maintain a relatively good safety record in its 21 years of existence.

 

Growing popularity

Peace Mass Transit is arguably the biggest mass transit operator in the country, ferrying an average of 30, 000 passengers across the length and breadth of the country every day, with offices in major cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Kaduna, Ibadan and Kano. On a monthly basis, the company’s 3,000 buses make about 60,000 trips that criss-cross the country.

The company has endeared itself to commuters who are satisfied with its choice of brand new buses, with quality services that could be found anywhere in the world. Expectedly, this has not gone down well with some of its competitors who still subscribe to the pull-him-down syndrome that has plagued many entrepreneurial initiatives in the country.

An opportunity to continue in the effort to bring down the company’s image and damage its reputation came recently when its vehicles got involved in two separate accidents in Abia and Bayelsa states, for reasons that were attributed neither to state of vehicle nor human error.  It was established that in one of the accidents, a truck left its lane and rammed into a PMT bus, killing the driver and some passengers. But at regular intervals that suggested a well planned and coordinated campaign, the social media were awash with pictures of the accident taken from different angles to give an impression of incidents that are common place with the company.

So vile was the campaign that it gained credibility when FRSC issued a damning report on the accidents. The launch of the Defensive Driving Campaign provided opportunity for the corps to publicly apologize for the error and issue a rebuttal for its earlier judgment.

“I want to seize this opportunity to apologize to the management of PMT on the misleading report which emanated from us indicating that 44 passengers died in an auto crash involving PMT vehicles last June”, Boboye Oyeyemi, corps marshal and chief executive officer of FRSC, said at the event. “The publication is highly regretted and I have queried the officers involved in the inflation of the figures. I equally ordered a rejoinder, and as a responsible organization, we accept our mistake where it has been proven”.

Onyishi says campaigns of calumny, such as the one unleashed on his company in the wake of the accidents involving its vehicles in the name of competition, do not serve the transport industry any good. He says such campaigns can only lead to the collapse of the sector. “By the time you start posting my pictures and I start posting your pictures, this will kill the business, and that means our passengers will leave all of us”, he said, at a news conference to explain the company’s position on the social media campaign.

He said despite the negative campaign, the company’s customers stood by it, because they know the truth about its safety record. “The edge I have is that my customers believe in us, despite all this social media campaign”, he said. “It is because these people have tested our service for many years and they know who we are”.

Onyishi has challenged FRSC to come up with a means of correctly assessing the safety standards of transport operators in the country. This, he believes, will keep the public adequately informed about the safety records of transport operators and serve as a guide for passengers. He says a step in this direction would eliminate negative campaign against competitors, since the public would be in a position to separate the truth from falsehood.
peace-mass2