By Adaeze Atueyi-Ojukwu
Navigating your way through Lagos on a normal day is no mean task. It has its own challenges. In fact, it is an adventure that brings a lot of difficulties. As one of the fastest growing cities of the world, neck-breaking traffic logjams are a common phenomenon. From Ikorodu to Badagry, Iyana-Ipaja to Epe, the situation is the same all the way – it is a trend that has sadly affected the economic fortunes of many homes and even the state as a whole.
However, it was in finding a lasting solution to this situation that the state government, under the incumbent administration of Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, mooted the idea of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system immediately he came into office as part of his dream of a ‘Mega Lagos’. Like in several other big cities across the globe, the new transport system was projected to ferry thousands of people to various parts of the metropolis on a daily basis without hitch at pocket-friendly fare. And in comfort, even. It was the reprieve many dwellers in the city had long dreamt of. And they embraced it wholeheartedly. Movement within Lagos became relatively smooth.
But that was a few years ago. The story has since changed with a ride on BRT bus not as pleasant as it used to be. Worn-out vehicles coupled with poorly maintained tracks and the hostility of bus operators sometimes, have all formed an unholy alliance to make things tough for commuters in recent time. A ride through the metropolis on BRT by the reporter during the past week showed that it is no longer the comfortable and swift option for commuters willing to hit their destinations in good time.
The journey on this day began at Oshodi bus stop, a popular suburb in the heart of the city itself. Together with my colleague, Biodun Adeyewa, a photojournalist, I jumped on a BRT bus, and quickly sank into a seat at a corner. The bus was headed for CMS, on the island part of Lagos. It had been long I did this, so I had every reason to expect a smooth ride even though I had reservations about the system itself. The sun was scorching that it could unnerve a monk. To weather the ‘storm’, I got myself a bottle of water, which I gulped down, in one swig. Finally, the bus was full and after almost 30 minutes, we got to Tafawa Balewa Square, TBS.
Before I boarded another bus to my next destination, I took a look at the BRT Park at TBS and I discovered that the red buses known as the LAGBUSES and the blue buses known, as the BRT buses were both parked at different lanes. My inquisitive mind led me to ask one of the officials the reason for this and he said, “the BRT and LAGBUSES are operated by different organizations; the red buses don’t make stops on the road, while the blue ones do at intervals.”
I boarded another bus heading to Ketu. But this time, it was a different story. The rear door of the vehicle was conspicuously missing. The bus was old and rickety – a stark contrast to what it looked like years back when the system first came to town. It is a sight that would leave you fuming. Well, I knew sitting close to the door was out of the question so I quickly found myself a seat somewhere else.
“Can you imagine that this bus doesn’t have doors?” said a middle-aged woman. “Can you see that it is in decrepit state? Can you see that it is littered with nylons of sachet water, used tickets and other things?
“This is not the way BRT started about four years ago. I think I will not be wrong if I say the BRT buses we know are gradually turning into molue that we thought had gone into extinction for good. If they continue like this, soon all the buses would be destroyed,” she said.
But even in such deplorable condition every seat was occupied. Even at that, the driver still beckoned on commuters to hop in and I wondered if there were spaces on the roof of the bus for the passengers. This took my mind back to when the buses came into existence. In the earliest days of BRT, such was almost impossible; however, it is nothing new these days. The number of persons standing and clutching onto any available space in the bus is more than those seated. It was no pleasant ride for those who were standing, whenever any seated passenger alights from the bus, there was a kind of tug-of-war for the seat so vacated. Sometimes it turns into a fight among the passengers.
The journey to Ketu was not a pleasant one. We were transferred to another bus that was heading the same route, when our bus broke down at the middle of nowhere. But this time, I had to stand. It was not a pleasant experience. The queue at the park here was enough for anyone to cancel his or her appointment – it was a long queue and none of the waiting passengers wore smiles. “I have been queuing under the scorching sun for nearly 45 minutes waiting for a bus,” said one of the angry passengers to no one in particular. “This is my third bottle of water,” he says. “I no know wetin dey happen oh, we don dey wait for bus for close to one hour and e never come. Which kind government be this sef?” a ma who introduced himself as Godwin Okoli, wailed.
Another passenger, Vivian Okonkwo stated that she left her house about 10:00a.m with the hope that she would get to her destination some 30 minutes later, but she was wrong, “I have been waiting for the past one hour; I can’t even meet up with my appointment again. I am just tired,” she thundered in anger.
Before long, three buses arrived and the long queues slowly fizzled out. It was time to join another bus heading for Ikorodu. Some of the passengers in the bus could not hide their frustrations at what the once efficient transportation system in Lagos had become.
For Mr. Adetola Odunayo, an IT analyst and a regular commuter from Ikorodu to Ketu, the conditions of the BRT and LAG buses are nothing to write home about. According to him, most times, he waits at the BRT bus stops for several minutes before a vehicle comes to convey people to their destination.
“Those in charge of managing these buses are not doing their jobs adequately. I have been waiting at this bus top for the past 30 minutes and we have not seen any bus. It is sad that we cannot adequately maintain the buses that came in good conditions. I wonder what the government is doing about this. One can only hope it gets better,” he said.
Chioma Okenwa, a businesswoman, who went to buy some goods at Ikorodu on this day, also had reasons to complain. The ineffectiveness of the system lately has meant she can no longer meet up with some of her daily routines. “I love boarding these buses because they are faster and cheaper but I do not like the way in which the management is handling them in recent times. I am so sure that the buses are not handled properly, their present state is fast becoming embarrassing.”
Another commuter, Jane Okoye, said that the bus stops are always too crowded and that many of the buses are now in very bad shapes. “If something is not done on time,” she warned, the state of the vehicles would be as bad as molue.
“Something has to be done with the way these buses are handled. Whenever you come to Ketu bus stop, you are sure to meet a long queue and this is very sad. I wonder why there are not enough buses for people to go to where they have to. The Lagos State government should do something before it is late,” she said.
When contacted, Mr. Kola Ojelabi, spokesman of the Lagos Metropolitan Transport Authority, LAMATA, whose responsibility it is to regulate the activity of BRT said: “There is nowhere you find urban transportation that you don’t see people standing. Go to Paris, London, New York or every city where you have urban transportation. If you are going from one city to another, it is different. But when you are travelling within a city there is no way people would not stand in the bus. Standing in the bus is not something that is new when it comes to urban transportation.”
Debunking the widespread belief that majority of the buses on the scheme were no longer as efficient as they used to be, Ojelabi maintained that, that is a wrong notion. He said the management of LAMATA was ready to accommodate and transport more passengers to their destinations. “If the buses are not efficient we would not be picking up the passengers on daily basis.
“What happens is that sometimes there could be traffic and the buses would not fly, they would have to ply the same road that other buses pass through. There is no way the buses would get to them on time if they are held up in traffic.”
“We have about 250 buses. BRT is a system between Mile 2 and CMS. LAGBUS go everywhere, but the BRT buses are the blue ones that go from Mile 2 to CMS and TBS to Ketu.”
The BRT system is one which relies on the use of dedicated ‘interference’ free segregated lanes to guarantee fast and reliable bus travel. The buses under the scheme run on physically segregated lanes thus making them cover distances faster in situations where there is traffic congestion. It is one of the several options available for tackling the huge public transport predicaments of Lagos.
Like the blue buses labeled LAMATA, the LAGBUS is also another arm of the BRT revolution in Lagos. It officially started operations on March 24, 2008, although it was initially slated for opening on 17th of February 2007. With over 500 buses and 40 routes currently in operation, the body operates a prepaid and on-the-bus ticketing service available in different denominations on its different routes. The vision was to deploy buses in dedicated right of way with prepaid tickets, select operators and GPS monitoring to create a modern bus transportation system for Lagos.
But after more than three years of operation, some of those targets have been hard to meet. Thousands of people still find it hard to move around the city as a result of heavy traffic logs and inadequate commercial buses. The poor maintenance of the BRT system have also now meant that many who live within Nigeria’s commercial capital might have to endure more frustrations in the coming weeks and months except a drastic solution is found soon.