A tro-tro is a catch-all phrase for any public transport vehicle in Ghana
that is privately owned and can be hailed at points along its route. A tro-tro can be a small Nissan bus, a mini-van, or a converted pick-up truck. Tro-tros offer a cheap and fairly efficient way to get around Ghana. But with no set schedule or route map, you'll need to follow the guidelines below to figure out how to get yourself a ride.
Time Required: Varies Depending on Destination
- Finding a Tro-Tro
Tro-tros have set routes, in cities they travel along all the major thoroughfares and are easy to find. Just ask anyone on the street for the tro-tro stop. On longer haul routes you need to head to a tro-tro station and often the tro-tro will find you by way of a vocal young man urging you to climb aboard. You can also just flag one down along the main road. Jabbing your finger up in the air as one approaches indicates you want to go to the next big town. Jabbing your finger down to the ground means you want a "local" tro-tro that makes frequent stops.
- Getting on the Right Tro-Tro
While tro-tros have set routes, as a visitor you'll have no idea what they might be. All local people know, so just ask. If you are in Accra, most of the central sights including Osu, Makola market, and Jamestown are covered by tro-tro's whose "mates" yell "Accra! Accra! Accra!", or "Circle!" for the main bus station To get to the university, listen up for "Legon!" If you are catching a tro-tro out of town, head to the tro-tro depot and ask for the right "express" tro-tro to your destination. Since tro-tros literally cover entire Ghana, you'll not wait too long to depart.
- Tro-Tro Departure Times
Tro-tros only leave when full. If you are in a city like Accra or Kumasi, you usually don't have to wait very long for it to fill up and leave. But if you are taking a long-distance tro-tro it can be a very hot, stuffy hour of sitting and sweating while you wait for the "touts" to fill up the vehicle. Best to try and get on a tro-tro that is already quite full. For more remote locations, tro-tro's may only depart in the morning, so check the day before for approximate departure times. There are generally fewer tro-tro's on Sundays, unless it's a market day.
- Paying Your Fare
In cities where you're just getting from A to B, you pay your fare to the "mate". He'll be holding a wad of notes and be the one who is yelling out the destination. For longer hauls, from town to town, you will usually buy your ticket from a Private Transport Union booth. Tro-tros are cheap, you'll pay around 5 Cedis or less per every hundred kilometers. Within a city, fares are barely more than 20 -50 Pesewas, a few coins. The key is to have small change with you at all times when riding tro-tros in a city. There will be much grumbling if you hand a mate a 10 Cedi note.
- The Tro-Tro Ride
It's a squish inside a tro-tro, click here for my short video. Everyone gets a seat, but the tro-tros have usually been modified to fit extra seats, so be prepared to get close to your passengers. Within a city like Accra, you're generally sitting with well-dressed commuters and school kids in relative dignified silence. No music blasting, and plenty of hawkers selling cold water, doughnuts, and plantain chips to keep you satisfied on slightly longer trips. Long-distance tro-tros in more rural areas, mean you may be sharing the ride with lots of goods and the occasional livestock.
- Food and Drink
There are hawkers on all the main streets in Ghana, at traffic lights and tro-tro stops. Fellow passengers will help you purchase peanuts, water, doughnuts, batteries, lottery tickets and tablecloths, if you desire them. If you can get a window seat, it's easier to see what is on offer. Once you have your seat, it's not common to get off and stretch your legs while at a stop and waiting for the tro-tro to fill up again. IF you do want to stretch and actually stand to drink your water, then get a seat where you are in the way of other passengers getting out and use that as an excuse to get extra air.
- Your Luggage
Given the cozy conditions inside the tro-tro, your luggage will ride on top. At busy tro-tro stops, you may get some enthusiastic help with your backpack, just make sure it goes on the tro-tro you actually want to get on to. Check to make sure it's tied down properly and don't leave anything valuable in it. Waterproof covers are handy and make it more difficult to slip things out of side pockets.
- Tro-Tro Safety
Ghana's roads are not always in great condition, drivers work long hours and road accident rates are very high. Tro-tro accidents occur fairly frequently. The Bradt guide to Ghana suggests you take a long-distance bus or taxi if you have that option rather than a tro-tro, because of the high accident rate. And that's despite the wonderful bible quotes and Christian slogans painted on the windshields. I would recommend taking a few tro-tro rides when in Ghana just for the experience. But if you can afford a more luxurious and safer option for long-distances, then it would be silly not to.
- Why Are They called Tro-tros?
Tro is an old Ga word for 3 pence, the unit of currency during the British rule and what it used to cost for a single ride. In those days, tro-tro's were usually Bedford trucks converted to hold passengers seated on wooden benches. Tro-tro's have since gone up in price, but most city fares still cost just a few coins, but now they're pesewas instead of pennies.
What You Need
- Small coins and Cedi notes for short trips
- Local knowledge of routes and tro-tro stations/depots
- Tolerance for tight spaces
- Sense of humour