- Time is ripe for Lagos to have intelligent mass transport systems
In most livable cities, the two most effective modes of mass transit in cities with large populations are subways and buses. Transportation in Lagos should not be an exception to this rule. But the mega city has been an exception for decades during which it has relied on ‘pseudo-mass’ transit systems provided by mini-buses (Danfo), despite arduous efforts on the part of Lagos State governors in the last 17 years to modernise mass transit in the city.
The state’s strategic transport master plan (STMP) has made its efforts to add the city to list of cities committed to adopting intelligent mass transport systems remarkable. But the dark side of mass transit in Africa’s most populous city is the failure to end reliance on motorcycles, tricycles, and mini-buses. It is, therefore, salutary that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has boldly acknowledged the disadvantages of getting stuck to an obsolete and inefficient mode of transportation that is incapable of enhancing the competitiveness of the city and its residents.
At a conference in Lagos on ’Living Well Together, Tomorrow: The Challenge of Africa’s Future Cities,’ Governor Ambode made one of the boldest policy announcements on the future of mass transportation in the mega city. Announcing his government’s decision to phase out danfo, okada, and tricycles in the metropolis, he assured citizens of his government’s vision: “When I wake up in the morning and see all these yellow buses and see 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 … 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.”
A city-state of about 23 million people cannot continue to rely on modes of transport that are too limited in design and capacity to safely and efficiently move people around in a metropolis that is also constrained in terms of road space for free movement of traffic. Most of the advantages of mass transit: fast, efficient, effective, and safe movement of passengers in an atmosphere devoid of chronic traffic congestion and rising pollution are unattainable by motorcycles, tricycles, and even mini-buses, particularly in an urban space in which over 10 million people need to move from one point to another daily.
Therefore, time is ripe to gradually phase out such obsolete and ineffective transportation modes. But, like all efforts to improve on any system, there are implications that must not be overlooked in the transition from an inefficient system to a more efficient one.
The challenges thrown up by transition to a post-danfo/okada transit system in Lagos are legion but not impossible to transform into opportunities. There are thousands of drivers and conductors whose livelihood will be affected by the new policy. The business culture of such drivers and conductors require reorientation that can make them useful as employees in the new dispensation. Danfo drivers who are already licensed to drive should be assisted to benefit from special re-training programmes to make them eligible for employment. And the government ought to provide special economic empowerment programmes for those who may be unemployable in the post-danfo/okada era.
We also urge the government to embark on public enlightenment on the need to modernise and improve transportation in the state. Current complaints about Public/Private Partnership, be it about provision of potable water, waste disposal and management, and other utilities are likely to affect the move to phase out danfo and okada, if proper public enlightenment is not provided to assure all stakeholders that providing over 20 million people with well-coordinated mass transit is a win-win situation for all.