Gboyega Akinsanmi writes that the inauguration of Ikeja Bus Terminal along with four other major terminals currently under construction in Agege, Ojota, Oshodi as well as Yaba, signals the dawn of a new era in the state’s integrated transport management system

Lagos is undergoing change on a scale perhaps unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. At the core of this change is the Bus Reform Initiative (BRI) the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode introduced in early 2017. And the plan seeks to formalise the transport sector; inject at least 5,000 new buses in the state and phase out the regime of danfo from the streets of Lagos.

At its introduction, the BRI looked unworkable for many pessimists. But Ambode must have drawn inspiration from China’s aggressive transport infrastructure development or perhaps Japan’s unparalleled breakthrough in transport technologies. This perhaps explains why he then said: “If Lagos must be globally competitive, we must change the outlook of the way the city runs.”

True to the concern of the pessimists, funding the initiative was a huge challenge, which the governor acknowledged at the time the national economy ran into turbulence. But Ambode said the turbulence would not stop him from dreaming. Then, his administration came up with a three-year radical plan to develop deliver Lagos residents what he termed intelligent transport system.

Apart from funding challenge, the initiative equally incurred enemies of its own at the inception. The initiative sparked protests among road workers and transport unions on the account that it might end up edging them out of jobs. Contrary to their concerns, the state government rolled the template of jobs, which the governor, would be created by the time the initiative came full stream.

But all these challenges could not end the dream of transforming the state’s archaic transport system to an intelligent transport infrastructure. So, last March, it was a dream come true when President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled the Ikeja Bus Terminal, one of the flagship transport infrastructure under the BRI.

Unveiling the BRI

At the inauguration, Buhari was marvelled at Ambode’s aggressive transport infrastructure development. Even though he did not specifically utter, the president’s countenance radiated halo of surprise. But he was also marvelled at the number of projects the Ambode administration “has been able to conceive and develop in the space of three years.” The projects indeed inspired Buhari to observe that Ambode “has redefined the state’s public transportation.”

Aside, the president was marvelled that the projects were conceived at the time of economic recession. He perhaps did not expect the projects of such could be executed when other states of the federation could not even meet their basic obligations. So, for him, the state government had done the impossible that revenues received from the Federation Accounts could not have delivered.

On these accounts, the president made three crucial observations. First, Buhari commended Ambode for development and strides he recorded within the first three years in office.” He, also, endorsed Ambode’s bus reform, which according to him, would transform public transportation; create jobs in hundreds of thousands and formalise the transport sector in no small measure.

Buhari agreed that the plan “to deploy 5,000 air-conditioned buses will radically redefine public transport services in Nigeria.” Even though the terminal was just a fraction of the transport initiative, he observed that the transport sector would no more remain the same when other components were completed.

Buhari, thus, acknowledged that the BRI would transform the economy of the state, indeed the national economy. He said the vision to develop world-class transport infrastructure “will indeed help commute its growing population with ease.” Like Lagos, the president disclosed that the federal government “has outlined its plan to develop Pan-African Railway Transportation.”

However, according to him, the federal government will complement the state’s transport infrastructure development plan. He did not specifically explain how the federal government would complement the state. But he promised that that the national government would adhere to its transport infrastructure plan, especially the ports, which he believed, would drive national development.

Apart from adhering to the apex transport infrastructure plan, Buhari assured that the federal government would order the development of Nigeria; stabilise her economy; create an enabling environment for job creation; tackle security and bring Nigeria from ignominy to acceptability locally and globally.

Before the BRI

Before taking up the mantle of leadership, Ambode perhaps underrated the enormity of the state’s traffic issues. But grim realities of Lagos population growth pushed Ambode into action. The realities stemmed from different statistics, which on the one hand showed the pattern of migration to Lagos from other states and the number of commuters that solely relied on public transportation on the other hand.

A 2016 survey of the World Economic Forum (WEF), for instance, revealed that Lagos “is the fastest growing city in the world.” The WEF, further, shows at least 85 migrants enter into the city per hour. By implication, the forum says, the population growth of Lagos metropolis is much faster than that of London and New York with a rate of 9 and 10 persons per hour respectively.

Another survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that in Nigeria, at large, over 80 million commuters daily depend on public transportation. In Lagos alone, at least 12 million persons use public transportation every day without standard facilities. This translates to 15 per cent of Nigerians, who have no other option than to commute through public transportation.

Likewise, the population size of the state is a huge challenge. At a recent forum with corporate citizens, Ambode disclosed that the state’s population “has risen to 25.2 million, which indeed represents about 24.7 million according to the UN Habitat and growths at least by 3.2 per cent. In this context, commuting has been a real burden with quality man hour lost to traffic congestion daily.

Confronted with these grim realities, Ambode convened a traffic summit in 2015. The summit, first, recommended the creation of lay-by along the corridors that are prone to traffic congestion. It equally recommended expansion of bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors to other parts of the state. It recommended the exigency of phasing out yellow buses that dominated the state’s road transportation.

With all these initiatives, commuting in the state still pose grave challenge, a reason the administration came up with the BRI. The initiative, according to the governor, was conceived to put in place intelligent transport system (ITS), which will enable passengers know the arrival and departure time of buses from the comfort of their homes, offices or anywhere and properly plan their journey.

He, therefore, said the system “will eliminate all the previous chaos and difficulties associated with boarding bus to different locations. The Ikeja Bus Terminal sits on 10,000 square metres land space, is equipped with intelligent transport system, food court, shops, rest rooms, ATM gallery, free Wi-Fi, electronically controlled shades, fully air-conditioned terminal, among others.”

Inside the BRI

From its design, Ambode said, the BRI is an antidote to the long-time challenge of commuting people from one part of the state to others. Under the initiative, at least 5,000 high occupancy vehicles (HOVs) would be deployed to all parts of the state. Aside, the vehicles are all air-conditioned and environmentally friendly. By September, the governor said, 820 buses would be deployed.

But the BRI is about bus deployment. It equally focuses on developing world-class road infrastructure. Currently, the governor disclosed that the state government “has started constructing ultra-modern bus stations across the state. Also, the Tafawa Balewa Bus Terminal has been completed. Also, the Ikeja Bus Terminal has been unveiled, though operation has commenced.”

Under the first phase, Ambode disclosed that at least 13 new bus terminals “will be constructed across the metropolis. These include major terminals now at different stages of completion in Oshodi, Yaba, Ojota as well as Agege.” He equally disclosed the plan “to construct 300 new bus stops and three bus depots under the first phase. At the end, we develop intelligent transport system to help commuters to plan their journeys on our public transport system.”

He, thus, explained the design of the Ikeja Bus Terminal, which according to the governor, was estimated “to convey about 200,000 passengers every day across 23 destinations. The terminal has been fitted with all aspects of public transport operations such as buses, passengers’ insurance, 13 ticketing boots, route licensing, terminal bus attendants and operating companies.”

This is just the beginning, said the governor. He added that his administration “is committed to reforming public transportation infrastructure and management in the state. The vision remained the provision of a functional, efficient and integrated transport system to support the populace and facilitate commerce. Of 5,000 new buses, we will inject 820 by September.

“In the last three years, we are committed to revamping and providing a new integrated transport system to support our growing population. We have initiated and completed strategic transport infrastructure projects that are scalable. These are critical projects that will in no small measure support the daily needs of Lagos people to meet their connectivity and mobility needs. We have put arrangement in place to start assembling the buses in Lagos within the next 20 months. This will in turn create jobs for our people.”

Beyond the BRI

Unknown to most residents, the BRI is just a component of the state’s transport programmes, which was detailed in the State Transportation Sector Law, 2018. Aside bus initiative, Ambode noted that the state government “is promoting non-motorised transport – walking and cycling paths – with a view to providing residents multi-modal choices to commute with the metropolis.”

Also, the governor gave insight into the state’s rail projects, which he said, had been carefully designed to convey large number of commuters along seven corridors already identified. But of the seven corridors, Ambode noted that work “is ongoing on the Light Rail (Blue Line), a 27-kilometre rail project running from Okokomaiko to Marina. Already, the Masa-Masa-Marina corridor of the Okokomaiko-Marina rail project is at least 75 percent completed.

Even though it has not started construction, the Ambode administration brokered a $1 billion deal with the Japanese International Corporation Agency (JICA) between 2015 and 2016to develop a monorail that would link Marina, Ikoyi and Lekki. Although it was not officially, the development of the monorail project was one of the reasons the governor paid a visit to Japan early March.

He cited the plan to construct Light Rail (Red Line), a 30-kilometre rail project that will run from Marina to Alagbado. By estimate, the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) put the project cost $2.5 billion. Citing the cost, Ambode said his administration “is discussion with various investors and stakeholders to develop the Marina-Alagbado light rail project.”

Likewise, according to him, the state government has developed an ambitious plan to transport at least two million commuters by water every day. This explains why Ambode said the state government “has been dredging and channelising strategic waterways across the state.” Basically, he said, the purpose is to fully explore the tourism and economic potentials of the waterways in the state for the overall benefit of the people.

By implication, Ambode said the state government would ever remain committed “to implementing the integrated transport management system designed to scale up water, rail and land transportation.” In essence, he explained, the grand plan is to divert at least two million passengers on the waterways daily, thereby reducing traffic on the road.