Lagos Brt Buses Now Gasping For Breath

25 May 2013

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Lagos commuters heaved a sigh of relief six years ago when the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was introduced as one of the intervention schemes against the horrendous transport system in the state. A few years after becoming a saving grace through competitive cost, promptness and convenience, the buses and dedicated lanes have started failing on their early promise to leave road transport in Lagos better that it met it.

Kicking off as one of the most structured and seamless road transport systems in this part of the world, it was easy for several thousands of commuters to hop into crisp and near-luxury BRT buses in Lagos, knowing well that they had no gridlock to worry about. But conditions not stringent in the traditional sense of the word were introduced; board with your tickets only, no hawking on board, no standing or loitering on the aisle, no preaching or campaigning and no smoking. And the punishment is just as mild as the few don’ts earlier listed; adhere to the simple boarding rules or get ejected, especially in cases where coercion is inevitable. In operation were the red and blue buses, operated by different companies – LAGBUS and the Lagos NURTW First BRT Co-operative Society.

The routes and promised standard…
The routes are growing by the day. From LAGBUS stopping and express service chart on its website, there is an estimated 46 routes at currently in full operation. First BRT has over 50 routes. From LAGBUS menu, we find four strategic commuter services which include; Park and Ride targeted at “individual car owners who desire quick, safe and comfortable commute into the Island” since the Park and Ride service is located at the Lagos Toll Gate. This plan was to deliver a high level of convenience to beat the stress and cost of driving to and parking on the Island. It also offers what LAGBUS call Executive Charter Service which caters for people in business or leisure willing to stage events from corporate to other social functions and need to transport their guests or group through a convenient bus shuttle. The branding services of the Red and Blue buses offer an opportunity to promote and communicate product and brand messages to different target markets through bus branding/advertising. The interiors and exteriors of the buses are branded for clients on different demands. 

Road worthiness…
The state of the buses and their dedicated BRT lanes have suddenly become appalling to say the least. Things are sadly assuming the downward trend for what had hitherto brought passengers glimmers of hope. Facts from the streets bare the truth about what is currently obtainable less than seven years after the inception. In the words of Dayo Odulaja, a resident of Lagos: “The BRT buses were introduced as a better means of transportation but looking at it once more a few years down the line, it is difficult to rate it better than what was available before its coming. Aside the promise of a novel manner of commuting around the Lagos metropolis; that buses will arrive at the designated terminals in five minutes interval have not been kept. Beyond those points and perhaps the worse of the lot is the seeming lack of capacity to maintain the buses as the case should be. This has left some of them almost rickety as the popular 911 buses widely referred to as ‘Molue’ in those days. The truth is that no matter what the ever-active propaganda machinery of the government would say, the scheme has refused to justify the hype and standing accorded to it, let alone the evidently massive investment.”  In terms of sanity on board, Nkem Isichei maintains that “it is impossible to have the kind of sanity you get when you’re on board anywhere abroad. We still get so many standing passengers when the buses are already filled to capacity. They almost sometimes suffocate us in the quest for getting tickets sold at all cost.” Without sounding injurious to the scheme which gained this prominence on the assumption that it would salvage the horrific experiences of commuters, it is sad enough to know that some of the buses now pack up on the highways because they are not well maintained. Some operate with broken windows. Or how else do we rationalize the use of white broken plastic chairs to replace damaged seats in some of these vehicles?

Drivers’ level of competence…
Another disturbing stratum of its operations is competence on the part of the BRT bus drivers. Same cannot be said of the zest, alacrity and caution with which the drivers handled the wheels a few years back when the scheme birthed. Another resident of Lagos, Seun Babatope decries the drivers’ conduct behind the wheels: “The driving is far from an initiative that is as much-vaunted. Many times, you find these drivers struggling with speed to beat other vehicles on the regular lanes and you’d ask yourself, to get what and at what cost? The drivers and ticket collectors in most of the buses are ill-mannered and lack basic etiquette. Sometimes, you would even see some of these ticket handlers insulting passengers because they complain about the notes given to them as change. We take too many things for granted here and it’s killing the system.”

Lagbus management’s story…
Kayode Aluko, one of the pioneer operation managers of LAGBUS gave explanations to the barrage of complaints by passengers. About the lateness of some of the buses to the terminals and despite the information on its website that operations began with over 500 buses, he said: “I’m not sure we started LAGBUS with that number of buses, but I’m sure that at a point, we gave out over 100 buses to LAMATA (the agency through which NURTW got the blue buses) most of which were not properly used. So, most of them were returned to us in bad shape. These buses have begun work on Lagos roads and have faced what other vehicles have been facing for many years. It has faced gridlock. And don’t forget that it’s also a function of the engine, brakes and other components of these vehicles. Without mincing words, I know the agency needs funds to make the buses more functional. You may think we make money but whether we agree or not, LAGBUS buses are more or less for social services to allow people enjoy the dividend of democracy. From Oshodi to Sango is N150, Ojodu Berger to TBS costs the same. And come to think of the gridlock and time it requires to escape from it.” He explained that in the beginning, minimally, about 30 buses take off from Ojodu Berger to TBS every morning, but the number has dropped to about 20 because not all the buses can go through the rigour.” He maintains that passengers keep increasing because LAGBUS services are still the cheapest and safest no matter how we look at it. “Let’s be fair, how many accidents have you seen involving any of our buses since 2007 till date?” And as to why more and more passengers are now standing on board, he explained: “When we started, there were lesser passengers and more buses on the roads. Now we cannot easily meet the increasing demands of passengers, so some would have to stand till those who had been onboard before them alight at the different destinations. Under ideal situations, the manufacturers of the buses built them to accommodate 46 sitting passengers and 36 standing. So, until this is abused, there’s no anomaly anywhere.”

His response to passengers’ frequent report on drivers and ticket handlers’ poor manner reads: “Through our human training facilities, we put our drivers through rigorous trainings and mostly assign new ones as lieutenants to the old hands to learn more about proper conducts. In the event that any driver doesn’t comport himself well enough, it may be as a result of working under intense pressure. Some of them like every other human beings, bring their domestic problems to work and it makes them get irrational. But from time to time, we keep retraining them. We don’t hire ticket sellers. This aspect is contracted to agencies who recruit people who sell for them. Once the agencies fulfill our standard requirements, we give them the job to do. So, when they recruit, we help the agencies train these ticket seller through our customer unit to enable them know the best practices before going to the public.”  He insisted that the minimum qualification of all LAGBUS staff members is National Diploma after which they are all made to go through specialized trainings at the stage of recruitment. And as to how much conscious effort the top management officers have made to get more support from Lagos State Government, his said: “I am very sure that our top management officers have taken the matter to the government. They may or may not have met Gov. Raji Fashola but the government, if it must be sincere cannot deny knowledge of myriad of problems facing the scheme. It’s time for the Commissioner of Transportation to rise to the occasion.”

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