In what is now a common feature, commuters are stranded and rue their fate as mounting shortage of commercial buses confronts the Abuja metropolis, Olawale Ajimotokan and Udora Orizu report
An army of commuters stand rooted at several bus stops in Abuja bemoaning their fate as a result of a sharp shortfall of vehicles to take them to their destinations.
From Berger Bus stop to AYA, Eagle Square, Jabi, Area 1, Nicon Junction and Banex, anxiety clearly manifests on the faces of the commuters as they ponder how they will arrive their various destinations.
The telltale signs of distraught morphed on Rebecca’s face. She is a teacher in one of the secondary schools at Wuse 3 and was waiting to no end for a bus during the rush hour.
She poured her mind on the malaise of non-availability of vehicles to convey people home after work and offered advice on what government should do to ameliorate the situation.
“I think it’s due to fuel scarcity, most drivers wait in long queues for hours just to get petrol and this has also led to increase of the fares and it’s making it really difficult for us. I think government should solve the fuel scarcity issue, I believe when that is done then more drivers will be available and fares will go back to normal,” she said.
Another commuter is a clergyman by the name Timothy. He fingered fuel scarcity as one contributory factor that has made some private car owners to park their cars at home and resort to taking public transport to work.
This development, he said, makes the bus stops to be jam-packed with commuters heading to their various abodes.
Timothy said that arising from inadequate taxis and buses plying the different routes, there are more people struggling to board the fewer available vehicles, resulting in scuffles and some commuters sustaining injuries in the heat of the confusion.
He added that in most cases, commuters, bear the brunt as they pay more as bus drivers capitalise on the situation to hike transport fares.
“It is that bad as sometimes, we stand here for almost two hours, unable to find a bus or taxi to convey us. Government should ameliorate this issue instead of deviating from their duties,” Timothy said.
Kenneth, a civil servant, was transfixed to a spot at a crowded Banex Junction with the tropical heat bearing without let.
He lamented that his inability to buy fuel due to long queues at the filling stations has made him resort to public transport.
He said in view of the development and as a result of many people closing from work about the same time, it is always difficult for those without cars to find transport plying their routes.
“It happens both in the morning and evening. Usually the fares from Banex Bus Stop to Kubwa is N150 but now they are now charging between N200 and N250 because they know you don’t have any choice but to board unless you prefer to wait for another hour for a car to come along. I put the blame on the government, they should look for a solution to this fuel scarcity issue.”
Ejikeme Kester, a Corps member serving in FCT, believes the issue is not fuel scarcity but rather shortage of cars.
“In the morning and evenings there are fewer cars available to convey people, if the government can provide more cars or support some private individuals and companies to provide taxis that will convey people at all times, then this issue will stop. The big buses that are available people don’t like to ply them because they are too slow for those in a haste to get to work. So government should provide more taxis, as this also will help to curb unemployment by providing jobs for youths who have passion for driving.”
Abalaka, a student of University of Abuja, said when it comes to mobility, it is not everybody that can afford cars, even those interested in being commercial drivers, don’t have access to cars.
“The government is not helping the people, a lot of masses are suffering due to this issue. If you go to Katampe, there are lots of these long buses that are parked, not in use and government is not giving them out either to people that can put them into use. So I believe that non-availability of cars for drivers is a major problem. If government can introduce a kind of policy whereby those vehicles can be disposed to drivers or make available more cars to transport people, because we stand here for over an hour just to get to our place of work or home. We the masses are suffering due to this transportation issue,” Abalaka laments.
But taking an expert view of the public complaints, the Mandate Secretary Transport Secretariat, FCT Administration, Kayode Opeifa, accepted there were mobility challenges in the FCT, which should be tackled headlong. He also pleaded with the public to understand that the administration’s responsibility is huge.
According to Opeifa, the nature of Abuja makes many public and private workers in the FCT to live outside the city and in the satellite towns, mostly Karu, Nyanya, Karshi, Gwagwalada, Kubwa, Mpapwe, Katampe, while some live around Abuja North, Kuje and so many other distant areas.
“So the challenge of the movement to city apart from distance is also the cost. So if you see a station where some transporters decline not to go to those areas, it is purely an economic issue, but not our own authorised public transport. Our own Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company (AUMTCO) cannot do that. So, secondly, one is also mindful of the traffic situations during rush hours- coming early in the morning from Gwagwalada, Abaji, Suleija side coming from Kubwa, all the way from Karu, Karshi, Masaka, Mararaba, One Man Village, Kuje and all those areas because everybody is coming at the same time . It is also impossible for transporters to try to cash in. We also have the policy whereby mini buses drop you at the entrance to the city, while the taxi pick you up and drop you in the city,” Opeifa said.
The transport secretary also said many of the people licensed to operate the routes ran away because of the thin profit margin, saying in the past, almost 150 buses owned by operators pulled out.
“We have been charging the same amount for the past five to 10 years. Even when the cost of diesel had been deregulated; it was at a point N89-N90, but went to N130- N135, now it’s about N180-N190, and at some fuel stations, a litre went for N200-N220, but we have remained at the same charges.
“Even the FCTA currently subsidises public transport. So for everyone who uses AUMTCO vehicle, the FCTA is paying something extra on top. What readily would have come to mind is to adjust the bus rate and put in more buses. Our option is not to increase the bus fares at least for now, but to increase the number of buses.
“On the road, that is a huge demand on us and that is what we are a trying to do. Without showing you, we are currently discussing seriously looking at the possibility of increasing the number of buses in the FCT, knowing that the private sector has not shown a keen interest. And I tell you why. The ideal thing is for them to try and take it over so that we just have subsidised buses to ply those routes nobody wants to ply.”
Opeifa, a former Transport Commissioner in Lagos States, said the private sector is not breaking even as their return on investment is about 13 per cent. He noted the highest they can get is about 17-18 per cent while the cost of borrowing is about 22-24 per cent.
He said the global practice is for government to subsidise transportation so that when the operators don’t make money government mitigates the loss.
“The other option is to put more vehicles on the road and find operators to run them at a profit margin while we will bear the cost of infrastructure. I want to tell you also that we are not unaware of those issues. And we believe we are working to find way out of it,” Opeifa said.
According to him the railway which has the capacity to move more people from the satellite towns is an alternative sector which the FCTA is focusing on.
“You will want to know that if we have 2,500 and 1,000 people at a time, the best option for you is the rail track-that can move about eight coaches .That will give you 1,200 passengers and that is just about 20- 30 buses and it would have been the best option, but unfortunately because of the huge cost, we have-been able to do only one and half out of the six lines and very soon that may be available for operation,” Opeifa stressed.
He said many of the buses packed at AUMTCO yard at Katampe were out of service and putting them on the road will lead to operating at a loss.
He said because a lot of FCTA workers live outside the territory, they were discussing with the Nasarawa State Government to intervene on the Abuja –Keffi Road by providing mini buses to bring people to the FCT border from where the mass transit will pick them up.