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Lagos BRT as bus rapid tortuous scheme

By BENJAMIN ALADE, OLUWATOSIN AREO, BISI ADEWUSI and GRACIOUS AKUNNA
26 October 2018   |   3:05 am
Tolani had prepared everything for the final interview. Three weeks of no word from the corporate headquarters at Ikoyi did not quell her spirit. Dream jobs are worth waiting for after all; and so it was until last Friday, when she finally got a mail.

Lagos State Government, in 2008, started phasing out the rickety “molue” mass transit buses by replacing them with an executive-like Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) scheme. About a decade down the line, and after changes in administration, the erstwhile elegant air-conditioned buses are now poor replicas of their predecessors, running more chaotic and inefficient transport services across the mega city, thus making an expected luxury ride, a complicated journey. BENJAMIN ALADE, OLUWATOSIN AREO, BISI ADEWUSI and GRACIOUS AKUNNA report.

Tolani had prepared everything for the final interview. Three weeks of no word from the corporate headquarters at Ikoyi did not quell her spirit. Dream jobs are worth waiting for after all; and so it was until last Friday, when she finally got a mail.The interview details on the phone stared her in the face as she sat glued beneath the duvet. Her heart skipped more beats at the scheduled time: 11:00a.m. On the bedside clock was 06:55. Apparently, nothing had prepared Tolani for the short notice and the chase that ensued.

Some 40 minutes later, she was at the Ikorodu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) terminal – “your sure bet of getting to the Island faster”, her mum had offered some minutes earlier. Mum was wrong.All seemed normal when she bought the TBS ticket and stayed in line. She counted on the words of the ticketing officers that buses would soon arrive to evacuate the “normal morning rush”. It was so far so good by her timing: 7:42a.m. She cued into morning devotion: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”

Waiting for Godot
Fifteen minutes became 30, and then one hour rolled-by on the queue without any sign of a bus. Tolani panicked. The Ikorodu-Onipanu and TBS passengers’ queues had formed rings around the terminal. Ahead of her is a semblance of order, but behind her was already a chaos, with ‘sitting’ and ‘standing’ queues already crisscrossing.Arrival of two empty buses brought momentary relief. About 10 minutes later the first was stationed for loading and soon departed. Tolani did a head count; the next bus should take her. But the driver, for whatever reason chose to park at a distance and vanished for another 30 minutes.

Tolani felt the pressure in her bladder. Was it of nature or anxiety, she could not say. A sea of heads waiting for yellow buses on the other end melted her heart. No bus or taxi in sight. The sun came out harder this time, causing the seething frustration and tension to start boiling over.

All hopes were crumbling right before her eyes. At 10:05a.m., Tolani wept bitterly.Unknown to the job seeker, hers is one of everyday stories of missed opportunities and dashed hopes, no thanks to the poor services at the disposal of the Lagos BRT scheme. Besides Ikorodu, commuters daily form an unusually long queues along residential communities like Agric, Ketu, Ojota, Anthony, Fadeyi, Costain, and TBS, waiting for BRT buses that just wouldn’t come or have no value for time.

A resident of Igbogbo, in Ikorodu, Atanda Akinsiku, narrated that commuting from that axis has lately become a nightmare.Indeed, Ikorodu is one of the densely populated residential boundaries in Lagos, with population of at least two million people, and over 60 per cent in youth category and perpetually on the move. According to Akinsiku, “Many of the residents here work in Lagos, and you either go by road, which is less expensive, or by water if you don’t mind the safety concerns and cost. “The coming of BRT was a great initiative that further opened up the interiors behind Ikorodu. But now, it is so bad that civil servants cannot rely on BRT buses to get to work on time.”

In the beginning
The BRT idea was in 2007, conceived by the administration of Bola Tinubu, the then governor and current national leader of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) party. It was designed to deliver fast, comfortable, and cost-effective service to civil servants and business community navigating across Lagos commercial nerve centre, where traffic gridlocks have defied all solutions.

Indeed, the project is part of the strategic transport master plan (STMP), a 30-year plan to deliver a world-class integrated public transport system with Six Rail Lines, One Mono-Rail, 14 BRT corridors, Three Cable Car Corridors, and 26 developed Water Routes.

The first phase of the project took off in 2008, connecting Mile 12 through Ikorodu Road and Funsho Williams Avenue up to CMS. Further expansion by the successive administration of Babatunde Fashola, extended the scheme across other residential suburbs with buses plying road-side dedicated lanes. The second phase under Fashola was through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, and coordinated by the state-owned, Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA).

The current administration, led by Akinwunmi Ambode, inaugurated the “BRT classic” and “Smart Lagos Transport” model, an extension of the service from Mile 12 to Ikorodu roundabout, with the dedicated lane in the middle. Along with the then lauded initiative were some 434 new buses, but under a new management now known as Primero Transport Services Limited. Today, it is Primero, not LAMATA that has exclusive rights to all the BRT corridors in the state.

Lamentations
Governor Ambode while inaugurating the addition in 2015, did attest that the BRT had facilitated no fewer than 250 million passengers in seven years, which is an average of 100,000 passengers every day. It suggested that the project was fit-for-purpose and worked under his predecessors. The statistics are now a far cry.

Akinsiku was not surprised. He said: “Those were the days the BRT was fairly reliable. Now frustrated passengers would either transfer their space and ticket to interested persons, and just move on or simply walk away. I have tried it before, but waiting on the queue for three to four hours is just crazy. This is the new norm around Ikorodu, and once it is closing hours, the madness shifts to the TBS-end. This BRT thing is not working.”

The Guardian findings revealed that only the Ikorodu-Stadium-TBS axis still has BRT buses in operation, whatever its worth. The rest, including Abule-Egba inwards Oshodi, Igando-Iyana-Ipaja, Iyana-Ipaja to Ikotun, Ikotun-Cele-Express Yaba-Oyingbo, Lekki-Oshodi among others where red buses used to ply during the previous administrations have all been suspended, with their terminals now occupied by street traders.

Wasted man-hour
Like Tolani experienced the hard way, many commuters around the Ikorodu axis have unpleasant tales to tell about BRT services. Chinedu Samuel joined the BRT queue last Tuesday, for an official meeting on the Island. “I joined the queue around 6a.m., and as at 9.15a.m.; I was yet to get a bus. The meeting was for 11a.m. I had to join the red bus to CMS at 9.20a.m. and arrived at 11.30a.m. I was able to meet up, but I couldn’t imagine what could have happened if I had decided to wait longer on the queue.

“How early should I be on the queue? The only reason why I use the BRT is because of convenience and supposed speed but the services rendered now is nothing to talk about,” Samuel complained.Clara’s story is not any better. She joined the queue at TBS for Ikorodu around 5p.m. after shopping at Idumota. “Little did I realise that I will be on the queue for four hours. The BRT bus came at 9.30p.m., and I didn’t get to Ikorodu till 11p.m. I don’t need to explain what the waiting time was like. The annoying part was that many of us waited and kept hoping that a bus will come soon; only for the guys in the control room at 8p.m. to announce that BRT buses were stuck on the Third Mainland Bridge.

“When did BRT begin to ply the Bridge? What happened to their routes? These were the questions we asked ourselves after the annoying announcement. It was already too late to try leaving the queue because the ticket and time were wasted already.“The BRT administrators have failed woefully in its attempt to manage transportation issues in Lagos, especially between Ikorodu to CMS. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are a nightmare for commuters from Ikorodu axis. In fact, the average waiting time for bus is about 2/3 hours now. Imagine the wasted man hours. It is not free and we are suffering like this,” Clara said.

At Mile 12 BRT terminal, a woman, in her 50s, also lamented bitterly. “The queue in recent time is something else. I don’t know what the problem really is, because the ticketing officers usually won’t say anything. I have been here early in the morning just to be able to get to where I am going.

“The only reason I use BRT is because it is cheaper compared to commercial buses at Mile 12. But of recent, their services had been poor. The queue is almost to the ticketers’ shelter, and it is not as if there is no bus. “See buses also on the queue, but there are no drivers for them. I am just tired because by the time I will get to my office on the Island, it will be almost noon and I would be too tired to do anything productive. If I follow danfo now the price is double.”

Ticket not valid after two hours!
A passenger, Frank, who earns a living at Lagos Mainland Maternity Hospital, Lagos, occasionally opts for BRT to get home. Truly, it saves cost and often faster. Frank was dosing off when an official walked up to him. “Oga, you don’t have a valid ticket. Don’t you know that BRT ticket is not valid after two hours?” Frank’s eyes narrowed, he doubted he heard correctly. The fellow continued: “You either buy another ticket or you get down, oga.”

Frank later told The Guardian that: “Though the queue was long and delayed in the afternoon, I took consolation in the fact that it was faster travelling with BRT during rush hour. But that was not to be yesterday. From 4p.m. till 7:30, we were still on the queue. Even the ticketing officers were nowhere to be found. So, I left. “So, today, I decided to use the ticket. The ticketing officer at TBS and Anthony didn’t say anything, neither did I see any statement on the ticket that validates expiration. The bus stopped at Mile 12 terminal to drop passengers, while the usual routine ticket check was done.

“I was surprised when the person that came to check my ticket ordered me to alight from the bus. I asked him why. He said I have committed an offense. I queried him further and he said the offence is that I used the previous day’s ticket.”Frank, with the support of some passengers, stood his ground but was still ejected after over 30 minutes of delay.

Blame Lagos traffic
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Primero Transport Services Limited, Fola Tinubu, explained that his men gain nothing from the delays and not keeping to schedule. Tinubu said: “You need to see the way the roads are blocked on both sides during these periods of reference. I am running a transport service and not mine to clear the roads. Buses are stuck in the traffic, which is out of my control.”

He added that his goal is to make Primero the number one public transport system in Nigeria, with over 2,000 buses running all over Lagos and picking up over a million people daily.“I believe that is possible but our services is not where I want it to be right now. Right now, people still wait, as far as I am concerned, too long to board our buses. So, my goal is to reduce the queue and length of time they wait for buses. I don’t believe anybody should wait more than 10 to 15 minutes to board a bus.

“Where we are going is for everybody to use cards and with cards you can load it and put whatever you want there. It is a technology we are working on with Lagos State. Lagos State is already working on it. “There is an app that you can put on your phones called ‘Lagos BRT’. With that app, within 24 hours before you actually use a bus, you can say ‘I want to go from Fadeyi to Ketu’ and it would tell you when the bus would get there. It’s not 100 per cent yet, but we are working on it, and that is where we are going with technology.”

A member of the Civil Rights Movement, Kareem Adedotun, is not surprised that the transport scheme has taken some steps backwards under the current administration. Adedotun said it was not to imply that the scheme was perfect under Fashola, “though it was more of public ownership and participation, with maintenance component a priority.”

“The current administration, in a bid to move the needle forward, has more or less destroyed it with the model adopted. Secondly, we must also realise that the transport scheme cannot succeed in isolation of the environment we live in. That is to say, how has this administration performed in other aspects of the socio-economic development of the state?“For instance, if the traffic problem persists and poorly managed as we have seen lately, then it will affect BRT operations. That is what I have seen. So, it a mixed grill. The BRT scheme as well as our social policies and programmes need comprehensive review to be befitting of a modern society,” Adedotun said.