FCT Urban Mass Transit: Hamstrung by infrastructure, poor maintenance
The immediate past Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration led by Bala Mohammed, was alleged to have secretly sold the bulk of the 192 Marcopolo buses purchased by his predecessor, and incumbent Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai in 2005.
The buses were purchased at the sum of N3.2b from Brazil, but a paltry N200m was made from their sales, with lack of maintenance given as reason for the auction. Some of them were said to have been sold for excuses as flimsy as battery and tyre problems.
The order to sell the buses, allegedly, came when Abdulrazaq Oniyangi, was the managing director of the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Co. Ltd. (AUMTCO). Oniyangi was, however, directed by the former permanent secretary, John Chukwu, (during the period President Muhammadu Buhari, was still searching for ministers) to proceed on compulsory leave. What cannot be ascertained, however, is whether his removal from office had anything to do with the sale of the buses, as he would neither pick his calls, nor respond to text messages.
One hundred unit each of Ashok and Tata buses were imported from Asia in 2012, and in less than a year, majority of them had gone bad with Tata vehicles taking the lead. The latest import was Yutongz buses, which each had a year warranty and personnel from the manufacturing firm to manage them for a period of time.
Presently, there are few high capacity buses plying routes in the FCT, the ones on the road emit so much smoke that one wonders if agencies like the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) and other agencies saddled with the responsibility of road and environmental safety had not gone to sleep on such issues.
Few days ago, the front tyre of one of the buses suddenly burst along the Wuse Market Road, the sound was so deafening that people initially scrambled for safety, thinking that it was a bomb blast.
The above scenario, to an extent, summarises the story of the Abuja Urban Mass Transit outfit, which buses were meant to serve as palliatives for FCT residents, when the Federal Government banned the use of commercial motorcycles and small buses in the Abuja metropolis and its suburbs.
Apart from the spaces occupied by the administrative block, the security post, and the mechanic workshop, the disused transit buses, popularly known among residents as el-Rufai buses, have taken up every available space in the company’s premises.
Introduced in 2005 by the administration of Nasir el-Rufai, the intention was among other things to decongest the city of heavy traffic associated with too many people bringing out their personal cars on a daily basis, and also to check the activities of persons who use their private vehicles to do quick commercial pick and drop.
Barely eight years after the introduction of the transit buses, precisely in 2013, the popular mini buses were banned in the city centre to pave way for the operations of the high-capacity buses.
But over time, these mass transit buses have gradually disappeared from the city centre. And a visit to the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Co. Ltd, located along Kubwa Expressway, provides an answer to that puzzle. The outfit has become a dumpsite for bad and crashed vehicles.
A stroll around the premises revealed that some of the buses might have been down for over a year, as they appear to be completely out of order and their tyres flattened.
In an interaction with a driver of one of the few serviceable buses as he made to take-off, the middle-aged man, who pleaded anonymity said that the lack of maintenance culture was the reasons why more buses were grounded than the ones moving commuters about.
He lamented that drivers were currently being owed five months salary arrears, and there were no hopes of them getting paid anytime soon, just as he added that the new man in the saddle was trying his best to see that things return to normal.
Though the acting managing director of the firm, Eddie Ejon, was on seat, he declined comment, directing The Guardian to the head of marketing and communication, Babatunde Akintola. Ejon, however, punctured the driver’s claim that they were owed five months salary arrears, saying it was only two months salary. He added that the office has no budgetary provision, and no sources for money to run its activities.
Akintola informed that the current minister, Mohammed Bello, has promised to make provision for the outfit in the 2017 budget.
His claim that the outfit, with a fleet of 391 buses, has between 160 and 250 of them run on daily basis, left one wondering which part of the FCT that this huge number of buses would be plying without alleviating the suffering of commuters in the city.
When taken up on the scant presence of the buses in the metropolis, Akintola claimed that a lot of them were deployed to the suburbs, like Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kuje and the rest of them.
Asked about the condition of the buses lying around the company’s premises, apparently comatose, he claimed a lot of them came to get fuel as well as, for routine maintenance.
He, therefore, implored The Guardian to be stationed in one of the outfits loading areas in town for onwards of four hours, to observe the number of buses being loaded before drawing the conclusion that a good number of the buses were off-road.
Akintola, while reeling out figures of some of the deployment done on some routes said, 20 buses were deployed to Airport Road, 25 on Gwagwalada Road, 100 sent to Nyanyan, which he said is the outfit’s major route among others.
He admitted that lack of infrastructure has contributed immensely to hurting the operation of the company saying; “There are challenges we have been facing and they have been in the news always.
We have lots of external challenges that are not allowing us to operate at maximum efficiency. For instance, we don’t have bus stops; we don’t have terminals, and the environment is not conducive for our operations. If you get to any bus stop, you will see a lot of unpainted taxis. There is nowhere for these long buses to park and when they make attempts, you see touts harassing our drivers and even beating them up.”
He said past and present administrations were/are all aware of these challenges, adding that most times, buses that were supposed to be released to work are constrained by one factor or the other.
“It is even easy to operate these buses in Abuja because the roads are there. All we need is just for infrastructure to be put in place. Loading bays should be marked out for these buses. If Lagos State that is so choked up can do it, we should be able to do it here. Honestly, we cannot do anything without infrastructure in place,” he stated.
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