It was in March 2019 that the former Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode announced a new Bus Reform Initiative (“BRI”) which will include 5,000 new buses with an initial launch of about 820 buses as part of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network, to address the transportation challenges of the residents of Lagos and help to reduce traffic congestion.
Though the buses that form part of the BRI are equipped with modern equipment for safety and comfortability, such as CCTV cameras, USB ports for charging phones, free Wi-Fi and First Aid boxes, they continue to to run on the same dirty expensive fossil fuel source as the “danfo’ and “molue” buses they were commissioned to replace.
Urban transportation is estimated to be responsible for nearly a quarter of global energy-related CO2 and there are grave concerns about its impact on the quality of urban life and the effects of its pollution on health. Sustainable patterns of transport activities have been advocated by both the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the African Development Bank especially around the need to shift to more environmentally friendly modes of transport and improving vehicles and fuels, which is seen as a priority to reduce urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, Ghana’s government is planning to launch buses powered by compressed natural gas and electricity in a bid to reduce air pollution on the country’s roads. These new buses will be environmentally-friendly and are expected to phase-out the operations of urban buses popularly regarded as ‘trotro’ (similar to the “danfo” buses in Lagos) which use dirty fossil fuels such as diesel and petrol.
Côte d’Ivoire too has gone green. ENGIE the French multinational electric utility company and the engineering firm Tractebel have collaborated to engineer, supply and install the first ever compressed natural gas (CNG) fuelling station in Abidjan. This new fuelling station will facilitate the operation of the new range of compressed natural gas buses which will be cheaper to run than petrol or diesel fuelled buses.
As of December 2018, the Abidjan station was in the first stage of the Ivorian government and public transportation companies plan to increase the number of CNG buses and ensure that the region is working towards fulfilling its commitment to the Paris COP 21 Agreement to combat climate change and reduce global warming to well below 2°C
Looking at more examples on the continent, the City of Tshwane’s Tshwane Rapid Transit (TRT) system in South Africa, now boasts a fleet of about 80 buses that are dedicated gas buses and were manufactured by Mercedes-Benz to run exclusively on gas. Having dedicated gas engines means these buses save substantially on fuel costs.
In addition to buses powered by natural gas, electric buses are also better for the climate. Battery electric buses have lower global warming emission than diesel and natural gas buses as they have no tailpipe emission, but it is arguable that electric buses are only as clean as the grid that charges them. We have to factor in the emissions used to generate electricity for electric vehicles.
BYD, the Chinese battery and electric vehicle maker has been able to win two bus orders in Africa, namely Egypt and South Africa, but the affordability of these electric buses leads to small orders even though the growth potential in Africa is huge. However, it is optimistic that the price of zero emission buses will decrease and continue to decrease in the same way we saw the decrease in the price of solar panels.
According to the annual State of the Global Air Report published in 2018 by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), air quality in Nigeria is among the deadliest anywhere on earth with higher than ambient air pollution death rates. Vehicle emissions is one of the major contributors to this statistics and in the quest to build a sustainable Lagos and the mega city of our dreams, it is a no brainer that air pollution must be tackled with the same priority, vigour and passion as infrastructure, waste management, housing and urban transportation.
It is time for Lagos, Africa’s megacity to start to make ambitious commitments on transport, climate change and air quality and this will include laws to phase out cars that run on petrol in favour of natural gas or electric powered cars and to see that future bus orders under the BRI include natural gas powered buses and/or electric buses. Buses in the current BRT network can also be converted with the installation of a natural gas system which will allow the bus to be fuelled by gas. This is what is happening in Tanzania where at least 800 buses will switch to natural gas.
The University of Dar es Salaam and Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology are ready to install the natural gas systems on the vehicles and the cost has been estimated to be between $700 dollars and $875 dollars per bus and a saving between 30- 50 per cent in fuel costs. Cheaper fuel will translate to significant savings to the Lagos State government and private sector operators in fueling buses, and these savings can be transferred to customers through lower fares, cheaper food and general savings to all. The outcomes for the environment could be an even bigger benefit. The carbon displacement from such a programme could yield positive benefits to the health of the citizens and long – term reductions in social costs from pollution.
Olakanpo, a lawyer and sustainable development consultant who writes from London