The innovation of transport facilities in Nigeria has hitherto boomed in the areas of air and road transport, while very little mention is made about marine transport, especially in places without much natural water channels.
This orthodox practice may soon change in Lagos with the state of the art service offered by the Lagos state ferry service (LAGFERRY) since its establishment last year. The ferry service is run with classy boats equipped with modern facilities for the convenience of passengers like internet WiFi, on board entertainment; all monitored in real time to ensure safety of passengers.
The agency has sixteen terminals/jetties (two new terminals were added recently) and well-trained captains and deckhands are available and operate Mondays through Fridays, 6am to 6pm on each day. As well, there are also chattered services to commute tourists on the waterways for cruising and tour guiding on weekends by the public for social events like weddings, anniversaries, birthday celebrations and similar purposes.
In consideration of the traffic gridlocks caused by cars of guests at many event centres who lack adequate parking facilities for their guests, thus leading to road blocks and huge traffic jam, Lagos residents are encouraged to use the waterways for their social event.
Averagely, the ferry commutes about 800 passengers per day from all routes, each cladded in life jacket for safety.
Majority of the users at present are traders. Passengers with cars take relish of the security guaranteed them over the safety of their cars to park under the aegis of trained security personnel of the agency while they board the boats to their destinations.
Perhaps, a more interesting feature of the agency is the liaison it has with LASWA (Lagos State Waterways Authority) who ensures regular cleaning of water hyacinth clusters and other impediments that could obstruct smooth navigation); Marine Police and LASEMA (Lagos State Emergency Management Agency) for emergency backup, (although it has never recorded any accidental mishap since its’ inception). Additionally, the agency provides insurance policy that covers all passengers on board.
Although the agency concentrates its services in Lagos state so as to adequately serve Lagos people and their business interests, it partners NIWA (National Inland Waterways Authority) and NIMASA (Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency) to sail to neighbouring countries when needed.
In view of the outbreak of the coronavirus and the price hike in most commodities and service provision, the LAGFERRY maintained its price for commuters as a way to encourage their users despite the fact of reduction in the number of those who board the boats (60 per cent of usual passenger) to prevent spread of COVID-19. Thus, the passengers observe stipulated guidelines of washing of hands, use of sanitisers and face masks; social distancing in order to comply with necessary protocols.
It became a common practice for some commercial transport operators on the road to flout the directives of the government in maintaining a certain number of passengers to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. After leaving the motor parks the right number of passengers, some commercial motorists pick more people on the road despite the high transport fare and passengers complaints.
This misconduct cannot be associated with ferries because there are normally no persons to pick from the waterways after departure from the jetties until arrival at their destinations; a factor, which is a plus in combating the spread of the virus.
Construction work has commenced at the Third Mainland bridge of Lagos and it is to this effect that the agency added the two new jetties as well as increase daily operational trips, to help cushion the effect of traffic congestion on road transport which will obviously arise as a result of traffic diversions.
Hon. Abdoulbag Ladi Balogun, the incumbent MD/CEO of the agency whose head office is at Oyinkan Abayomi in Victoria Island said, “Water transport business is viable to tap into. It is a very key member of the intermodal tripod to make Lagos a smart city.”
However, the agency is not without some challenges which have been therefore identified as the lack of needed boats for the increasing number of patronage; the on-going dredging and channelisation of routes as well as construction of standard jetties.