Getting around Freetown can be challenging and frustrating. Endless traffic jams at Lumley roundabout, trucks crashing in the narrow streets downtown, taxi drivers overcharging you because you’re a foreigner, police officers hungry for bribes at checkpoints; sometimes it pays to hire an SUV plus driver and leave the wahala behind. Still, taking local transport can be a fun and interesting way of exploring Freetown. This article will be your guide to the different kinds of transportation available so that you can explore Freetown like a pro.
Poda poda are mini vans, often with the seating replaced by metal or wooden benches that function as buses and as a public forum. Yes, you read that correctly. Whenever the country is in upheaval or a scandal has been announced, passengers in the poda poda will openly announce their opinion. There is no way but to listen in a politely and orderly fashion, as you are probably squeezed in between two big aunties who will suckteeth loudly if you’re rude.
Poda poda are always crammed and can be incredibly uncomfortable during the hottest part of the day, but they are by far the cheapest way to get around and can be a true experience.
How to take them:
When a poda poda passes the apprentice (the assistant of the driver who handles payment) will shout it’s final destination. You can get off anywhere along this route for a fixed price, ranging from 1500le to 5000le, depending on distance. Poda poda also station at different posts throughout the city where they wait until they are 120% filled up with people.
Brightly painted in a combination of red, yellow, black, green and silver, taxi’s range from comfortable rides to absolute horrors with smelly seats, bass-heavy afrobeat blasting from broken speakers and reckless ghost riding when the driver decides he does not have time for traffic jams. Look out for taxi’s where stuffed animals and action figures decorate the dashboard. It is customary to great the passengers when you enter and it is appreciated by the driver if you pay with smaller notes. It can be complicated to find out which taxi goes where, but once you get the hang of it it’s efficient and cheap.
How to take them:
There’s two ways to use the taxi. The first one is to charter it for yourself and let the driver bring you to your destination directly. This costs between 10.000 (1,50$) and 50.000le (7$) , depending on distance and on the time. You can also charter a taxi for a day for about 150.000 (20$).
The other option is to use the taxi as a bus. It takes you from one stop to another and the fare is only 1500 leones. This can mean that you sometimes need to take three taxi’s to get to your destination
To catch a taxi, simply stand on the side of the road that goes the direction where you want to go and hold out your hand. When the taxi passes just shout where you want to go, the driver will stop if he’s going that way and has space. As with poda poda, they station at their final destination to then reverse their route.
Keke, known in Southeast Asia as tuk-tuk’s, have recently entered the public transport sphere. They work the same as taxi’s, but can only take three people. They are a tad more expensive (2000le) but are a comfortable means of transportation as they allow fresh air and can sometimes bypass traffic jams due to their small size.
How to take them: The exact same as taxi’s.
Okada (motorbike taxi’s) are the fastest and most dangerous way to get anywhere. Drivers often deploy unorthodox driving tactic, give you a construction helmet that does nothing for your safety but will make you look stupid and, especially if you’re a foreigner, will try to impress you by racing with other okada.
With that said, okada are still popular because they avoid the feared traffic jams, provide breeze and guarantee that you will not be squeezed by an aunty.
How to take them:
You cannot miss them. Tell the driver where you want to go and negotiate the price. Some routes are fixed, some are negotiable.
Okada are not allowed on the main roads (Wilkinson road, Spur road) and in the centre of town and are prohibited after 10pm.
By far the winner in comfort and efficiency; private vehicles offer reliable drivers, air-conditioning and a hassle free way of reaching any destination. Of course, this comes with a price tag. But if you do not mind spending a bit more to relax during your travel, there are many companies that offer excellent services.
VSL also offers private vehicles that can bring you to your destination quickly and at any time. Just contact us with details and a driver will be with you in no time. There is also the option to hire a vehicle for a longer period.
Freetown can seem intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of the transportation system it is an easy town to find your way around. Compared to cities such as Accra or Lagos, Freetown wins in comfort and has far less traffic. Whatever means of transport you use, a trip through town can be an experience in itself and, apart from daring okada drivers, are completely safe.
Suckteeth- sound made by sucking your teeth, an insult.
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Esther Kamara is a Dutch-Sierra Leonean that was born and raised in Amsterdam. After finishing her bachelor Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam she moved to Freetown, where she now works as a freelance writer and artist manager. Her brainchildren are otherworldly short stories and peculiar drawings of non-existing characters.