Public Transport Sector Lost N3tn to 5-Week Lockdown, Planet Project Reveals

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Biodun Otunola
  • Warns regulation without support may worse COVID-19
  • Urges govts to invest in public transport infrastructure
  • Seeks a workable national transport policy

 

Gboyega Akinsanmi

Nigeria’s foremost indigenous public transport and infrastructure development company, Planet Project Limited saturday revealed that public transport sector in the country might have lost N3 trillion to a five-week lockdown imposed on some states due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The firm, which conceptualised and constructed the Oshodi Transport Interchange under two years, warned that enforcing the COVID-19 guidelines and regulations could be circumvented if governments at different levels did not provide support or subsidy for both operators and passengers.

In an interview with THISDAY yesterday, the company’s Managing Director/Chief Executive, Mr. Biodun Otunola revealed some findings of a lockdown study on public transport his firm’s research unit conducted recently.

In a national broadcast on March 29, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the “cessation of all movements” for two weeks in Lagos State, Ogun State and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to stop the spread of coronavirus.

After subsequent reviews of COVID-19 nationwide, Buhari extended the lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States first for two weeks on April 14 and also for one week on April 27 in a bid to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Eventually, on May 4, Buhari eased lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States amid public anger resulting from the rise of crimes during the lockdown and due to the failure of governments to provide meaningful social interventions for citizens.

In his firm’s lockdown assessment, Otunola observed that what public transport lost in five weeks “is mind-boggling. Let us look at it this way. Nigeria has over 80 million people that use public transport on daily basis.”

He explained that if the impact on public transport sector “is assessed based on the average national fare of N150 per day and multiply it with 80 million passengers, it will give us as much as N3 trillion for the period of five weeks.

“To be honest, that is huge amount. So, public transport is one sector that the five-week lockdown really affected. It is not just the transport operators. Also, all the supply chains that are linked to transportation suffered the same consequences.”

Also, according to the firm’s managing director, filling stations suffered the same consequences. Mechanics, vulcanisers, spares parts dealers, tyre dealers and the entire chains of the public transport sector suffered the same loss.

Of course, Otunola observed that the whole economy “really suffered due to the lockdown, but transport sector suffered more because transport system is the oxygen of the economy. When transport sector stops, the economy stops.”
He gave empirical reasons the federal government should quickly support the public transport sector to ensure that all transport operators strictly comply with the COVID-19 guidelines and regulations.

Failing to provide meaningful support for the sector during the period of emergency, Otunola warned that the transport operators might breach the COVID-19 guidelines and regulations, which according to him, might worsen the situation.

In Nigeria, he said the government “has not provided any support for transport operators. It is something our government should look into. If we do not provide operators subsidy, they will not fully comply with the COVID-19 regulations.

“At the inception, they may comply. But they will circumvent the system. When they do that, social distancing will be jettisoned . As a result, the government needs to sit down with the transport operators and provide incentives for them.

“It does not have to be as big as what the US provided. When they are provided some incentives, they will be faithful to the COVID-19 guidelines. As it is now, there are no incentives for them. What the government has done was to provide guidelines and regulations to ease the five-week lockdown.”

Specifically, Otunola observed that regulation alone “is not enough. It is important the government sits down with transport operators and works out incentives to commit them to social spacing requirements, especially during this emergency.

“It is a 90-day thing. If we do the first 90 days, I believe everybody will get used to it. Then, in the post-COVID-19 era, we can go back to our normal lives,” he advised.

Beyond providing support for transport operators, Otunola reeled out other measures governments at different levels should take to boost the public transport, a sector he described as the oxygen of the global economy.

He suggested that the first priority of the governments should be on investing in strategic transport infrastructure, which he argued, would meaningfully boost the movement of goods and services across the federation.
He, thus, explained: “If you are talking about bus transport system, for instance, governments need to invest in bus-stops, depots, stations, or terminals while the private sector can invest in buses under the regime of public private partnership (PPP).

“In the railway, the governments need invest both in the infrastructure and rolling stock. Railway is very capital-intensive. It is not what individuals can readily go into. It is the government-to-government kind of transaction. It is important governments – either national or sub-national – put their money if they really want to solve this problem,” he added.

He, also, explained the significance of a national transport policy, which according to him, was currently one of the challenges public transport had been facing in the country and without which the sector would not witness meaningful progress.

He said Nigeria “needs a national transport policy. Right now, most policies we have in the country are not addressing our transportation issues. For instance, there is no reason every city, which has at least a population of one million should not have a system of bus rapid transit (BRT).

“The federal government can invest in the feasibility study and master script. At the end of the day, everybody is a Nigerian. We can begin to come up with the global template for all cities in Nigeria. This can be done at the federal level.

“The Federal Ministry of Transportation can coordinate it and share data with them through the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF). This is one of the things that the federal government needs to do. But most states do not have the capacity.”

However, he noted that Lagos “has enormous capacity in this area. We can see the result. It developed the first BRT in Africa. The second one is underway.”