Focus – Bus acquisitions and donations: the SOTRAL experience in Lomé, Togo

CODATU News Thursday 7 March 2019

Last December, Michel Tindano, CEO of SOTRAL (the transport society of Lomé, Togo) visited us in CODATU. He kindly agreed to share the experience of his company in terms of bus donations and acquisitions.

Bus purchases and donations : the SOTRAL experience

Dysfunctions, adaptations and successes

2007 – A first donation for an experimental bus line

In 2007 the Lomé City Council decided to set up the operation of an experimental bus line in order to highlight the transport demand. The SYTRAL (the organizing authority for urban transport in Lyon) provided a first donation of 17 buses. The SOTRAL (Transport Society of Lomé) is created, with the status of a private company providing a public service. The private sector  has not invested thus the capital comes from parastatals companies (port, city, chamber of commerce, Municipality, PAM that manage markets …).

With this first donation, SOTRAL started a bus line operation and showed how urgent is the need for the State to invest in public transport.

2012 – First transaction to acquire 45 buses

In 2012, on the instruction of the Head of State, funds are allocated by the Ministry of Finance to the acquisition of 45 buses. The procedure is done without consultation or opening markets, but via intermediaries based in the United States for direct orders from manufacturers.

45 buses are delivered. The buses are State property, made available to Municipality for use by SOTRAL. However, this provision is not supported by any notarial legal document or administrative certificate. As a result, no information regarding guarantees is available about the manufacturers technical support, the training for local technicians, the definition of the supply circuit of spare parts … And intermediates make post sales services more difficult: catalogs are received in Chinese, spare parts delivered are unsuitable ... As the technical characteristics desired have never been specified, models delivered were not appropriate, with for instance buses with permanently closes windows not adapted to extreme heats of Togo. The unclear status of buses will then cause many problems, especially in accounting.

To cope these malfunctions, SOTRAL sets up a reactive and efficient maintenance team (made up of technicians, mechanics, scrap metal craftsmen …) which realizes many « homemade » repairs (replacement of windows, change of the transmissions …) and completely reshapes buses to meet local operating conditions. New supply circuits for corresponding spare parts in neighbouring countries (Nigeria, Ghana …) are also being developed.

2015 – 2nd official bus purchase

In 2015, still on the instruction of the Head of State, 20 buses are bought through the same circuit. But this time a specification is drafted. The cost of buses stays high, especially because of the intermediaries margins and difficulties are the same: unclear guarantee, spare parts supply circuit still poorly defined … But once again, the SOTRAL is reactive and fits.

September 2015 – 2nd donation

In 2015, to deal with the limits of purchased buses and to develop its fleet, SOTRAL asks SYTRAL for a second donation. 30 buses around 13 years of age but still sturdy are given and a container of spare parts is sold at a reduced price, Togo paying for the transportation. Here again, the spare parts supply circuit is not very specified and imposes new adaptations for SOTRAL.

But despite all these disagreements, donations are recognized as valuable and informative by the company as it helps to understand better needs and issues and bring a better answer.

2018 – 3rd purchase in progress

Today the demand for transport is very strong in Lomé and on the 88 buses of SOTRAL, only thirty normally run, for an estimated need of 150 to 200 buses.

Also a third acquisition operation is in progress. This time, the Market Control Department mandated a consultation. To speed up the process a restricted consultation with list of builders has been negotiated and specifications have been written. Exploratory missions / visits took place (delegations went to Belarus, Cotonou …) to compare bus builders offers from different countries (bus prices, robustness, maintenance and services, local dealer…). Formerly subcontracted, maintenance will now be done internally and will rely on 25 technicians.

SOTRAL manages 30/35 buses and operates 17 lines including 7 student lines (students enjoy a reduced subscription), with 475 stopping points (with signage: panel with name of the stop, lines, sometimes timetables …), of which 30 with shelter.