Well Paid, Productive and Import-Substituting Child Labour
I was sitting in one of Gaborone’s notorious traffic jams the other day pondering on how much fuel and blood pressure was being expended. I thought – the modern cars in the UK have the stop-start system, which is really nice, but the starter motors on most cars in Botswana are mostly not yet of that design, and would suffer horribly if they were used frequently.
To put you in the picture, the problem seems to be roundabouts and 4-way crossings. Partly because people here are not as high-pressured or as traffic-savvy as Brits and Londoners, then traffic up to roundabouts and junctions can be VERY slow-moving. I guess that the average 45 minute 10 km commute inside Gaborone spends 10 minutes plus in slow-moving queues. Petrol and diesel are still (relatively) cheap here at US$ 1/litre (compare with $1.40 in South Africa and of course $2 throughout UK and Europe), but people are starting to take notice. In fact even switching off and on is tricky, since there are frequent traffic moves of 1-2 car lengths, all the way up to the roundabout or 4-way crossing.
I thought about rear-fender-attached electric motors and friction wheels, but it doesn’t make any mechanical or economic sense.
But what does make sense is using child labour. A vehicle in these queuing conditions uses about 1 litre / hour (in fact 0.17 litre – $0.17 in 10 minutes). Low paid wages here may be $5/hour (Pula 1200/month), with domestic servants making in the region of $2/hour. Since fuel consumption in these conditions is $1/hour, then it should be worth to motorists to pay someone $0.30/hour to push their car slowly and intermittently up to the roundabout or 4-way crossing. That would be $0.05 for 10 minutes, or about Pula 0.35 – 35 thebe (the 10 minutes idling would cost Pula 1.20).
A lot would depend also on school hours. School starts at 0800 hrs and so do most office jobs. Therefore from 0715 through about 0755 would be the time for this activity to take place, provided it were close enough to school. The evengin rush hour is around 1700 – 1800 hrs, well after school has closed. And of course the Health and Safety aspects would have to be considered. The average kid doing this in the morning and evening rush hours should be able to make 1.5 hours at $0.30 or close to $0.45 per day (3 Pula). Not a lot but some kids would do it.
There would be advantages in reduced pollution, reduced imported fuels, less global warming, less wear and tear on vehicle. People with power brakes (and especially women) would have to also be aware that stopping the car using the footbrake is not so easy or rapid when the engine is not running (maybe use the handbrake more instead).
This concept in fact might be more suitable to the urban hell which is Lagos, Cairo or Nairobi, where such traffic conditions may exist in some parts of the city pretty much 24×7….
With the recent dramatic rises in fuel prices, these kinds of approach are something to think about.
One cannot think of a government-directed program for this kind of thing, but the Market may create such a system by itself….
Alex Weir, Gaborone, Botswana. 2 June 2011