PORT MORESBY - If you are a motorist who regularly drives around Port Moresby city chances are you’ve come across a band of youths plying their specialised trades along Croton Street.
At first they may raise suspicion among drivers and passers-by because of the way they’re dressed and how they conduct themselves.
However more careful observation reveals these youths are on to something.
They provide an affordable alternative automotive service to struggling vehicle owners who can’t afford vehicle servicing by recognised automotive workshops like Ela Motors and Boroko Motors.
If you get to know these talented youths, you might be surprised to hear their encounters with an array of clients including members of parliament, public servants, taxi and bus operators and average motorists.
The influx of cheap vehicles means these youths play an important role in ensuring people get to work and school children can be driven to and from school.
The services provided by these youths range from mechanical repairs, servicing air conditioning and tinting car windows. Minor work can be done within minutes or an hour and while waiting you can share a joke and smoke a cigarette.
After the job you exchange phone numbers and gain a friend and a trusted personal auto mechanic.
These self-starters are a mixed bunch comprising professional auto mechanics, who turned their backs on their old job because they were not earning enough, as well as self-taught and otherwise unemployed graduate mechanics.
Depending on the type of job these street auto mechanics can fetch K500-K600 a day.
So, if your vehicle air-conditioner fades, you can easily have it refilled in no time by one of the youths standing on the pavements with gas cylinders and air pressure gauges strung over a nearby fence. For K150 these guys recharge the gas and attend to other issues.
And if you’re a person who doesn’t feel comfortable driving with clear glass windows, you can always approach one of the many window tinters to make you feel more secure at a cost of K20 a window.
You can’t miss them given they’re always hanging around with tinting films in their hands. These come in different colours so you can choose a favourite colour for your car windows.
While these youths are a boon to struggling motor vehicle owners, first time customers should be wary of ‘con-auto mechanics’, who are known to deceive unsuspecting clients. These are people who are not trained auto mechanics but go around pretending.
So be a bit strategic. Step out of your car and talk to them. Test their knowledge to see if they know what they are talking about. Check to see if the person has his own tools. If he starts asking others for tools, watch out.
Or, better still, speak to a friend who is familiar with these street auto dealings so they can recommend a genuine mechanic they know of.
Operating in a public place without proper recognition comes at a cost for these mechanics and their cohorts. Because they usually operate on the side of the road, they often fall victim to heavy-handed tactic by the authorities such as the police.
In such situations, they lose money or their tools. It is a precarious working environment for these young men.
Space to operate is also a major concern. The local and national governments should really look at identifying spaces where street auto mechanics can operate.
The mechanics themselves should come together and form a union or similar body to lobby the government for recognition and assist them to become successful entrepreneurs.
Owning and operating a vehicle in the city is an expensive exercise. Aside from constant increases in the price of fuel, automotive parts are costly.
At various stages in a vehicle’s life there will come times when owners have to dig deep into their pockets to get the vehicle moving again.
When that time comes, at least for Port Moresby residents, you can do that at minimal cost by paying a visit to the street auto mechanics of Croton Street.
Busa Jeremiah Wenogo is an economist who specialises in the informal economy. He is the founder and administrator of the Facebook page PNG Informal Economist