Ripples trail Ambode’s yellow card for yellow buses

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By Olasunkanmi Akoni &  Monsur Olowoopejo

Lagos State is the economic hub of Nigeria and as such is putting a place a transportation system which acts as catalyst for economic activities.

The state government, realizing the importance of transportation in sustainable development, is therefore committed to the transformation in the transportation sector and industry through the Ministry of Transportation and its various agencies: Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA); Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), regulator of Bus Rapid Transit, BRT; LAGBUS Assets Management Company (LAGBUS); the Motor Vehicle Administration Agency (MVAA); the Lagos State Drivers Institute (LASDRI); the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA);   Lagos State Number Plate Production Agency (LNPPA) and LASU School of Transport.

In the realization of its safe, reliable, efficient, sustainable, integrated, multi modal transportation system policy, the then Commissioner for Transportation, under the immediate past administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola, Comrade Kayode Opeifa, stated that the Ministry of Transportation, since 2011, had concentrated on various activities, projects and programmes aimed at achieving safer roads, safer drivers, safer vehicles and mobility equipments, safer communities and the environment, and more importantly, a better quality of life for Lagosians.

Lagos yellow buses

According to a source, the government’s focus is to keep Lagos moving with pride, dignity and honour through programmes and activities, by linking people to jobs, delivering products to the market, underpinning supply chains and logistics, supporting domestic and international trade, supporting tourism, improving urban and rural economy goal, reducing poverty through improved mobility as well as improving quality of life (reduce congestion, pollution   by reducing the green house effect as a result of carbon-monoxide emitted, especially by mini-bus, otherwise known as danfo, operators, among others.)

“As the demand for transport services increases with the extension of the input–output relationships of an economy, the demand for transport infrastructure to match the pace of economic growth becomes critical and the investment in transportation infrastructure will be of great contributing determinant in the Gross Domestic Products, GDP, computation of the economy,” source stated.

Proposed ban on mini-bus

There are thousands of  yellow commercial buses daily moving commuters of the over 23 million estimated population of the state.

It was gathered that there  are about two million vehicles on Lagos roads.

Besides the positive aspect of providing means of transportation, the menace the operators constitute on the highways cannot be over-emphasized.

Most of the traffic gridlock across the metropolis is attributed to the  gross indiscipline of danfo drivers who pick passengers and drop same at un-designated bus stops, thereby causing traffic pile up on  roads.

Often times, danfos are notorious for a crime called “one chance” in which danfo drivers and accomplices rob passengers of property and money.

Victims lose their lives or are maimed in the process. These and many other factors were said to have informed the new step by the state government to resolve the problem.

Thus, determined to reorder the road transportation system in line with the megacity status, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode announced the plan to phase out the yellow buses by the end of the year.  This move, expected to injct about 2,000 buses with bigger capacity to carry scores of passengers at a time and thus reduce the volume of vehicles on Lagos roads, has continued to generate worries, especially among road transport workers.

The governor said  the measure became necessary in order to evolve a more efficient, well-structured and world class mass transportation system that would facilitate ease of movement within the city.

The idea was not conceived by the present administration: Fashola administration actually formulated the policy. Ambode, however, admitted that the present connectivity mode in Lagos was not acceptable and befitting for a mega city.

“When I wake up in the morning and see all these yellow buses and see commercial motorcyclists, `Okada’ and all kinds of tricycles and then we claim we are a mega-city, that is not true and we must first acknowledge that that is a faulty connectivity that we are running”, he said. “Having accepted that, we have to look for the solution and that is why we want to banish yellow buses this year. We must address the issue of connectivity that makes people to move around with ease and that is where we are going.

“For instance, people going from Ikorodu to CMS have started leaving their cars at home because the buses are very convenient and so why can’t we do that for other places? Yes, we don’t have the money to do that but we can go to the capital market and then improve on the technology of collection of fares and that will encourage investors and then the city will change”.  There is no doubt that banishing the yellow buses in major Lagos roads and r3estricting them to inner roads (Trunk B and C) will go a long way to reduce traffic on the major roads.

RTEAN reacts

Mr. Olalekan Pius Amosun, the Publicity Secretary, Lagos State Branch of Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, condemned the move,  saying it cannot work at the present time.

“I remember that during Fashola’s administration, we were invited and we made our stand clear. Also, when Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was sworn-in, he invited us and we further made our demands known to him”, Amosun said.

“Part of our demands was that the infrastructures in the state were insufficient to accommodate the new plan. We argued that the roads and others need improvement to accommodate the plan.

“Also, we said that for the plan not to boomerang, the government must design a scheme that will provide alternative jobs for drivers and their conductors, who could be forced to join labour market.

“And that if government fails to provide jobs for the drivers and their conductors, insecurity could increase because they are idle and could easily take to crime, especially in this period of economic  recession.

“And government officials and  consultants told us that we have to be accommodated in the new plan.

“But we are yet to conclude the negotiation on the planned introduction of the new transport policy”.

‘No cause for alarm’

Lagos State Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede, corroborated   Amosun’s statement, saying talks on the plan was on-going.

He said, “We are still on the negotiating table with government through the Ministry of Transportation. The initiative started during the administration of Fashola and ever since we have been on it.

“There are certain issues that are inconclusive and must be concluded before any of such move could be taken.  Up till now we are still meeting. “My advice to our members is that they should not entertain any fear, no need to panic. I assure them that all will be well at the end of the day. We have a listening governor who will not want to see Lagosians suffer unnecessary hardship.

“We believe that our members will be actively involved and carried along in all the process of this initiative. Though, the details of the present administration’s policy on transportation system are still sketchy, we believe that it will consider our submissions on the matter. “

Meanwhile, speaking on the planned transportation initiative, Mr. Suraju Adegoke, a father of four, resident in Ikeja, Lagos, said the plan cannot work considering the state of Nigerian roads.

He said “You know our roads are categorized into three-Trunk A, B and C. The high-capacity buses cannot ply Trunks B or C.  So, commuters will still rely on the yellow buses to move.

“Also, the manner at which our roads were designed indicates that the aim is dead on arrival. This is because  government does not have the huge fund to start expanding all the roads; when there are other issues demanding attention.

“Why government achieved result on Okada was that residents  do not depend solely on Okada. But in the case of the yellow buses, they have helped workers to keep their jobs”.

According to another resident, Mr.  Bolarinwa Durojaiye, there is the need for government  to look at another approach to  the policy.

His words: “The best way to get danfo busses off Lagos roads is to provide bigger, more reliable and safer buses and in large numbers  to accommodate  commuter needs. Do this successfully and you will consign those old yellow busses to irrelevance. No need for ban.

“The second concern is probably the most important: What happens to the thousands of danfo drivers (and their many dependents) who will now be without a means of livelihood? We all know the old saying about idle hands.

“I believe that with the right approach, these drivers and conductors can be taken through a rigorous training and testing regimen, just like the popular ride hailing services do currently. In this way, those who are successful can be ‘rehabilitated’ and deployed as bus drivers for the bigger and more efficient bus services that put them out of work in the first place.

“Lastly, as the saying goes, government has no business being in business! My view is that the involvement of the state government in mass transit should be limited to equity ownership at the most. We need the light rail system but it should not be operated by government. We need  more BRT buses in Lagos but this service should be fully operated by the private sector, while  government handles regulation.

“We can even introduce a rating system that allows commuters s to rate the transportation service and provide a basis for changing operators when the need arises. This is the only way that we will see the quality and efficiency in commuter services that the people of Lagos deserve.”

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