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Oshodi-Abule Egba BRT buses: Teething problems hampering efficient offering

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
15 August 2021   |   3:04 am
Though the Lagos Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) initiative has made a lot of impact on the motoring experience of Lagosians and the intra-state movement in Lagos generally

Passengers entering one of the buses at the Oshodi Terminal (Inset Interior of the BRT bus)

Though the Lagos Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) initiative has made a lot of impact on the motoring experience of Lagosians and the intra-state movement in Lagos generally, one year after the scheme was launched along the Abule-Egba corridor, it is being plagued by some teething problems. GBENGA AKINFENWA examines some of the challenges that may hamper the smooth operation of the scheme, if not quickly addressed.

Since the launch of the 13.68km Oshodi-Abule Egba Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor by the Lagos State Government last year August, the initiative has brought a breath of fresh air to intra-state movement on that axis.

 
For one thing, the nightmarish traffic snarls caused by the reckless drivers of the commercial minibusses, popularly called danfo, have been drastically eased. This is a major achievement that has elicited a huge sigh of relief from commuters and motorists plying the route.
 
The advent of the BRT obviously made commuting enjoyable. Not only are the BRT buses a delight to ride on, what with the roomy interior and comfortable seats, they are also clean and modern. Compared to the often dirty and humid ambiance in the yellow buses, the BRT buses are paradise on wheels, especially with the air-conditioner that is permanently switched on.

Other factors that attract commuters to the BRT buses include the opportunity to work on their laptops or just surf the Internet and listen to music while aboard. There are even slots for charging mobile phones.

Perhaps, the major appeal is the travel time, which has been drastically shortened. The journey from Abule-Egba to Oshodi, which usually takes about an hour during peak periods, has been reduced to about 25 to 30 minutes.

Usually, the BRT buses are stationed early in the morning at their bus stop in Gatankowa second-hand clothing market, Abule-Egba. They are also found along with such major bus stops as Ile Epo and Iyana Ipaja. And in spite of the initial N300 fare charged by the BRT buses from Abule Egba to Oshodi being a little higher than that of the yellow buses, which take between N200 and N250, many commuters still patronise the buses to save time.
 
While launching the scheme, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said 550 high and medium capacity buses were deployed on the route. He explained that the event also formally inaugurated the state’s upgraded e-ticketing system in fulfillment of the administration’s pledge.

 
Supervised by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), the BRT scheme has steadily gained acceptance among residents. This is evident in the swelling number of commuters’ that daily patronise the buses.
   
A commuter, Idowu Ojo, who works in a new generation bank at Oshodi, lauded the initiative, describing it as the best by any administration. “This is exactly what is needed to solve the traffic problem of Lagos State, and the state government has risen to the occasion. It’s a case of the promise made, a promise fulfilled. While commuting on the bus, especially during peak hours, I see other commuters trapped in traffic snarls. At those moments, I’m grateful to Sanwo-Olu and the Lagos State Government for bringing the BRT buses on this route,” he said.

Ojo is one of the many appreciative Lagos commuters that have good words for the Lagos government on account of its resourcefulness.

 
However, in spite of all the obvious advantages and the inherent potential that the scheme holds, one year into its existence, it is being plagued by some teething problems that might eventually affect its fortunes through dwindling patronage and other fundamental issues.
 
For starters, The Guardian observed that the lack of maintenance culture that has been the bane of infrastructural development in the country is beginning to also rear its ugly head in the scheme. Some of the buses have started to ‘misbehave’. For instance, the ‘stop request’ button strategically positioned in the buses sometimes malfunction in some buses. Also, the air-conditioning systems are becoming erratic.
 
Another issue of serious concern is overloading. Despite the capacity of each bus pegged at 39 sitting passengers and 45 standing, making a total of 84 as indicated in the buses, during peak hours, the operators regularly take more than 100 passengers. This is regardless of warnings on social distancing to avoid contracting the Coronavirus. Interestingly, they simply ignore those passengers that try to protest their actions.
 
One serious challenge that has got passengers’ tongues wagging is the attitude of some of the staff and drivers. Some passengers have alleged that the behaviour of some BRT drivers is not different from that of the yellow bus drivers, who are generally considered uncouth. Some of the staff are also accused of impatience and ready to embarrass passengers at the slightest provocation.
   
Thomas Olude, who regularly board BRT buses, has experienced this unpleasant aspect. He accused a driver of insulting him during one of his trips.

He said: “I think their drivers must be constantly trained to reflect professionalism. I recall one instance I was on the bus and I pressed the ‘stop request’ button. But the driver sped off at the designated stop and it was not until I started shouting, ‘O wa’ in the way it’s done in danfo and Molue buses that he stopped. 

 
“According to him, I didn’t stand up to show that I was getting to my bus stop. I was perplexed. Should I have stood up, when the ‘stop request’ sign had clearly shown in the electronic display in front of him? I hope LAMATA is utilising technology to aid it in providing more efficient service delivery.”

In addition, the bus officials have been accused of sundry sharp practices, despite the fact that the buses operate a cashless system. Those that have been victims of this ‘fraud’ allege that some of the drivers are fond of locking the tap-out machine, to deny passengers alighting on the way from collecting a refund.

Olatunji Adeolu, who works in Ikeja explained: “Whenever I tap-in from Abule-Egba, N300 was usually removed, and when I tap-out in Ikeja, a refund of N100 would always be returned to my wallet. But for some weeks now, some of the drivers always lock the tap-out machine, depriving the people alighting of their refund.”

Ayinla Olumide, who resides in Abule-Egba, said on a very busy Wednesday night in July, he couldn’t get the Iyana-Ipaja BRT bus, so he boarded a Meiran-bound BRT bus, which charged N400. “I thought after alighting at Abule-Egba, N100 would be refunded to me, but the driver locked the tap-out machine. And even those who alighted at Ikeja didn’t get a refund, meaning they paid N400 for the journey from Oshodi. This is criminal. I am still confused as to why they are doing that since the money is not going into their personal pockets.”

Another issue is the incessant glitches of electronic payment platforms, which the operators are finding difficult to tackle.

In the last two months, The Guardian observed that the complaints at the customer care unit at the Oshodi terminal are the same. It is either the payment machines are inaccessible or they shortchange commuters.

Though the cowry card technology that automates fare payment for BRT is considered an expanded e-ticketing system, which seeks to create smart mobility through a cashless prepaid card, enabling passengers to travel to different parts of the state using the card on any of the BRT vehicles, the service is still poor.

Olurebi Jamiu, who claimed his payment did not reflect on two different occasions when he recharged his wallet, said it took him over 30 minutes to rectify the error at the customer service unit.

Also, the recent fare increase from N300 to N350 has not gone down well with some passengers, who claimed that while the yellow buses are collecting lesser, they expect the government to reduce the fare in the face of the current hardship.

But the Assistant Director, Corporate Communication, LAMATA, Kolawole Ojelabi, said he was not aware of the sharp practices.

“You are just bringing the sharp practices to my notice, as I am not aware of such. The so-called sharp practices are not general. You cannot hold them to a particular bus or a particular driver. Nonetheless, we’ll conduct our investigation and see how we can nip them in the bud. But if you have a cogent case, please get in touch with me.”

Justifying the increase in bus fare, he said the step is meant to sustain the operation of the buses. “Before now, the exchange rate was N300 to a dollar,” he explained. “But now at the black market, it’s over N500 to a dollar. Presently, spare parts used for these buses are bought in dollars. So, if the public wants to continue enjoying quality service, we also need to help the operators to recoup some money. And so, that’s why there is a need for that marginal increase in bus fare.

“If we don’t do that, in the next six months, the buses will pack up, which will increase commuters’ problems. That’s why the marginal increase had to be implemented.”

Ojelabi disclosed that the buses do not belong to the government. “If you are one of the operators and you have invested your money, will you just stand still and be recording losses? If we don’t want the bus operators to go under, then we have to find a way to sustain the operation.

“If we accede to what they are asking, nobody will be paying. But we also have to think that to keep the buses in operation, the public should also play its part by paying the meaningful amount as transportation fare.”