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Lagos bus reform initiative: Lagosians worry about sustainability after Ambode signs off

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New buses…waitin to take over


The Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration at inception held a traffic summit and one of the submissions was the need for a more efficient and effective transportation system. This is what led to the Bus Reform Initiatives, which is driving a number of reforms, projects and programmes relating to transportation in the state. 
 
Apart from recommending a better operational transport mode, the need to also introduce high and medium capacity buses, with 5, 000 of such being introduced in the first three years was stressed. This was to be done alongside the gradual phasing out of rickety and small buses from major routes. 
   
The implementation of submissions from that summit has begun, and that that is why the state government is building modern bus terminals, depots and bus stops across the state.In the first phase, about 13 new bus terminals are being constructed across the state. Some have already been completed while others are nearing completion. The terminals are at Tafawa Balewa, Oshodi, Yaba, Ketu, Idumota, Iyana-Ipaja, Ishaga, Maryland, Oworonshoki, Oyingbo, Ojota and Agege. This is in addition to about 300 new bus stops and three bus depots.

The terminals and bus stops come with comfortable bus shelter, lay-bys, lighting, walkways, guard-rails, wire-mesh fencing for pedestrian protection, and passenger information system among others.The project, the state government said was conceptualised, designed and constructed by an indigenous construction firm, Planet Projects Ltd.

According to the state government the carrying capacity of the buses to be introduced would range from 30 – 70 people, while the scheme would be supported by a franchise system involving stakeholders or groups who will participate by taking up the bus franchise in multiples of 50, 100 and 200.

According to the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Dr. Taiwo Salaam, apart from going a long way in ensuring that transport activities are conducted in a safe and comfortable environment, the initiative would also ensure free-flow of traffic as there would no longer be any disruption to vehicular movement.

Speaking on the Initiative at a forum, Governor Ambode said the proposed Bus Reform Initiative was aimed at giving Lagosians an integrated public transportation system with a sinking fund of N30b. Ambode said his administration identified the challenges that Lagosians go through on a daily basis commuting via public transportation, hence the need to provide an alternative, a three-year plan aimed at introducing over 5, 000 air-conditioned buses to replace the rickety yellow commercial buses, popularly called Danfo, which according to him, no longer befit the state’s mega city status.

“We decided that the best thing is to allow the yellow buses go and so the Bus Reform Initiative itself is a three-year plan of 2017 to 2019 in which 5, 000 new buses would be brought in.“The bigger size buses will take 70 people and then the medium range buses will take 30 people. We believe that the middle range buses would make up to 70 per cent of the total volume, which will amount to about 3, 600 units and the longer range ones will make up the balance,” he said.

Speaking on how the government intends to fund the initiative, the governor said that his administration would launch a public transportation infrastructure bond of N100b that would span between seven to 10 years, adding that government already has a sinking fund, which it intends to put into the bond.

“You are aware that the Federal Government paid the refund of the Paris Club Loan in December 2017 and this is a money belonging to the state governments. So, Lagos State decided not to touch its share of the Paris Club refund. Right now, we have a sinking fund of N14.5b that is already put in place to drive this public transportation bond,” Ambode had said. He added that N1b would be added to the second batch of the refund, which was expected to be N29b making it N30b to kick-start the initiative.

“By the time we have N30b as sinking fund to drive the initiative against the bond of N100b that we want to put into the market, there will be that credibility and credence that the bond will drive itself, and that is the whole idea,” Governor Ambode said. Apart from the bond, the governor also explained that his administration intended to give out franchise to interested stakeholders in multiple of 50 buses, 100 buses, 200 buses and above, adding that what was required was a down payment of only 25 per cent of the cost of the buses.

He, however, said that the government expects the Danfo drivers, who would be absorbed into the new initiative to adapt accordingly, saying that transport unions would be expected to take ownership of the scheme to ensure sustainability.

Attempts to kick-off in 2017, which was the planned takeoff year did not materialise. Follow up efforts in 2018 also did not yield fruits. The latest date- March 2019 fixed by Ambode also did not come to pass. But on May Day 2019, there was a symbolic flagoff, when buses were deployed along some routes; Oshodi to CMS, TBS and other destinations

With the turnout of events, that is Ambode’s failure to get re-elected, it clearly shows that the initiative cannot set sail full-scale. Right now, some of the buses have already landed, but some other components for full takeoff are not ready. Aside the Tafawa Balewa and Ikeja Bus terminals that have been completed and commissioned, work is ongoing in other terminals.

In addition to work still being in progress, the BRT lane for the Oshodi-Abule-Egba corridor is also not ready. Although the first phase of the project was slated for 2017 to 2019, the governor would soon be leaving office without that first phase commencing fully because many of the key projects that would drive the reform are not in place. Even the Oshodi Transport Interchange, which minimal activities have started, is yet to be fully ready. Consequently, passengers are only enjoying a third of what the facility has to offer.

WHILE passing the 2019 budget, the state House of Assembly raised issues regarding the funding of the initiative, a development, which tends to rouse the concerns of some residents of the state concerning what becomes of the project post-Ambode. The lawmakers claimed they were not fully briefed on the project and were tempted to strike it off the budget. But commonsense prevailed and they decided to hang it on special expenditure.

John Adeyemi, a resident of the state only has minimal knowledge of the initiative, but he believes that this is what the state needs going forward.“You are surely not happy with the way public transportation is in Lagos State, especially if you have to make use of bus stops and motor parks. The whole environment and process does not befit a state like Lagos. We surely need to raise our game in terms of public transportation.”

Adeyemi said facilities like the Ikeja Bus Terminal and the Oshodi Interchange are huge projects that are capable of redefining the idea of public transportation in the state when they are fully put to use. Another resident Nifemi Olaoye is happy with the Bus Reform Initiative, especially as a result of the fact that it would help to keep touts at bay.

Olaoye, however, cautioned against allowing the project to die, especially with Ambode’s departure. He therefore, charged the incoming government to do its best “so that projects that push up Lagos’ status as a state of excellence are fully executed and sustained.”

A transport expert, Prof Samuel Odewumi described the Bus Reform Initiative as one of the necessary strategies for dealing with the state’s chronic traffic gridlocks.According to him, since the pluses far outstrip the minuses, all niggling problems associated with the initiative must be dealt with so that its full potentials would be realised.

“There is need for more engagements with critical stakeholders in the state; the ownership or franchise template must be reviewed downwards; the minimum fleet size is so large such that only the super rich would be able to operate in the field and present operators would just become hired hands working for the exploitative, wealthy owners.

“Besides, few of these wealthy fleet owners could form an oligopoly that can hold the state to ransom. There are other issues of technology, pay back default, badly maintained roads, corrupt and sharp practices of the operators and passengers, the long wasteful period of idle parking fleet in the humid tropical environment and many other technical and operational issues that we cannot even scratch here.”

In order for the initiative not to go the way of others that were fantastic on paper, but now history, for example the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, he advised that a lot more thinking be done with sustainability being exhaustively discussed.“I can say upfront that if deep thinking is not done, the project will last just about five years at best, before it is weighed down and becomes moribund like many past transport initiatives,” the university teacher said, stressing that most of Nigeria’s transport initiatives go bankrupt just after five years at best.

Odewunmi, however expressed optimism that the incoming government would continue with the project for many reasons. “It is still the same party; they will surely want to sustain it, but definitely fine-tune it to deal with the inherent challenges.“The second reason I am sure that the new administration will go ahead with it is because so much money has been committed to it that it would eventually cost more to put a break than to proceed. It’s unthinkable that anybody succeeding Ambode will attempt to stop the initiative, even if he were to be from the opposition. If that happens, it would be worse than what Buhari did to the Lateef Jakande Metroline Project that is still hurting everybody and hunting him till today.

“The third reason is that when everything is considered, the bus reform project is a fantastic idea whose time has come. The solution to Lagos traffic crises must be approached from multiple angles. The bus reform is one of the necessary strategies for dealing with the problem.”He nonetheless maintained that there is need for much more engagement to avoid resistances and sabotage. “This is very important for the buy-in of these critical stakeholders. I strongly recommend this input since there is still enough time for it,” Odewunmi said.


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