Lagos is the centre of excellence, the theory goes. For decades people have come to the bustling commercial and economic capital to live and work, moving out again when they retire. With this polarised nature of life in Lagos, time was a constraint. So Lagosians had but one option – a fast life on a lane bedevilled with avoidable traffic gridlocks alongside substandard and dilapidated urban transport infrastructure. In time, the rise of Abuja as the nation’s administrative capital, with its allure of superhighways and megacity concept, triggered off an unprecedented drift to the centre of unity as Abuja continues to beckon to anyone sick and tired of the Molues and bad roads of Lagos. But a startling paradigm shift brought the change that slowed the conveyor belt.
Lagos started inching further up the motorisation ladder since 2007 as the visionary Governor, His Excellency Babatunde Raji Fashola, came into office and took on the issue of urban mass transit head on with his team of technocrats. Lagos Metropolitan Transport Authority (LAMATA) thus metamorphosed into a multimodal transport agency overseeing a mix of contemporary mass transit alternatives acclaimed to be first of its kind in Sub Saharan Africa. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT); a bus-based mass transit system known the world over for delivering fast, comfortable and cost-effective service marked Governor Fashola’s first experiment in the quest for a comprehensive and integrated approach to improving public transport. Thus, after years of struggling with a lack of reliable public transportation system, Lagosians finally got to experience their first organized and efficient bus transport system. Launched in March 2008, the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system provides Lagos commuters with a clean, affordable and reliable means of getting around in the city.
The project draws from best practice examples of Bogota in Colombia and Curitiba in Brazil but adapted to African context, as BRT ‘Lite’, meaning a high-quality bus system that is affordable in the local context while retaining as many of the most desirable BRT characteristics as possible.
According to Dayo Moboreola, the Chief Executive of LAMATA, in his 2009 publication; Africa’s First Bus Rapid Transit Scheme: The Lagos BRT-Lite System, since the start of its implementation, the new system has brought about many positive changes. The evaluation suggests that over 200,000 commuters use this bus system daily, passengers enjoy a reduction of 30% in average fares and a reduction of 40% in journey time, cut average waiting time by 35%, and experience a welcome absence of exposure to theft on public transport. This has been made possible by the introduction of discipline in operations by means of route franchising, the increase in average speed from less than 15 km/hour to 25 km/hour, and the creation of an enabling environment with investment in infrastructure needs.
Today, six years after, according to lamata-ng.com the scheme has exceeded patronage expectations by 200% as almost 500 million passengers have been carried on an average daily ridership of 180,000 passengers and an average waiting time of 15 minutes on an average speed of 30km/hour. Moreover, the scheme has attracted increased patronage from sectors that had hitherto shied away from public transport, like the car owning middle class, children, the elderly, and the physically challenged.
Demographic figures have shown that Lagos is no longer the transit camp it used to be for rural urban migrants, it now retains both young and old as it gets bigger with a population of over 20 million and a growth rate of 8%. The UN estimates further that at its present growth rate, Lagos will be third largest megacity in the world by the year 2015 after Tokyo in Japan and Bombay in India.
With this population explosion and net inflows from where on earth, the government is abreast with the fact that BRT system could only be a temporary solution. Since 2008, transport watchers and experts have warned of the coming gap between the projected number of future passengers and the available passenger carrying units. Now it is undeniable. Owing to the farsightedness of the Fashola administration, it does not believe that the provision of thousands of buses could take care of the transportation needs of millions of people that commute daily in and around Lagos. Incidentally, the Strategic Transport Master Plan (STMP); a 30 year plan put together under series of intensive researches, studies and analyses of future transportation demands and needs of Lagos as Nigeria’s commercial and economic hub and one of the world’s fastest growing megacities has as its major component the Lagos Rail Mass Transit (LRMT) network.
The LRMT is a network of urban rail-based systems covering 7 major corridors of high commuter traffic demand within and beyond the metropolitan Lagos extending to border areas with States like Ogun and Oyo. The Urban Rail Network consists of 7 railway lines planned along priority and high commuter demand corridors within the Lagos metropolis and farther. The 7 lines link the major population and activity centres in the state, as well as taking advantage, where possible, of existing transport corridors. The network is fully integrated with planned and existing water transport and BRT routes.
The Blue Line, which construction work began in July 2010, is a 27 km rail road with 13 stations from Okokomaiko to Marina. The project which is the first phase of the rail mass transit initiative is undergoing construction right in the middle of Lagos-Badagry Expressway, which government is currently expanding and redeveloping into a 10-lane international gateway. Apart from rail, the infrastructure design also includes provision for BRT and multimode integration with Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) such as pedestrian walkways and overhead bridges for safe access by passengers to rail and bus stations. The Blue Line, when it commences operation with its proposed emission free Electric Multiple Units (EMU), will carry 400,000 passengers daily with capacity increased to 700,000 when the rail route becomes fully operational.
Because transportation is the biggest immediate pinch point as the population grows, there are implications for alternative transport facilities. The government understands that Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) can only directly serve part of the metropolitan area and that in the short and medium term the MRT network will be relatively undeveloped. Hence, the development of MRT will need to be supported by complementary quality public transport networks, integrated with MRT. The Lagos Cable Car Project is designed to deliver such a system. The most promising corridor for cable car development to complement the Strategic Transport Master Plan (STMP) is the corridor linking Apapa with Lagos Island, Obalende, Ikoyi and Victoria Island, which is not directly served by the STMP mass transit networks. Here the cable car project would provide high quality transport connections with several opportunities to interchange with the MRT and BRT lines. The project is expected to attract private sector funding thus increasing the level of investment available for improving transportation in Lagos.
The government, through the agency of LAMATA, has continued to improve on the quality of roads especially the 632 km identified as main bus public transport routes specified under the Declared Road Network (DRN). However, the road network density of Lagos, put at 0.4 kilometres per 1000 population, is low, even by the standards of other African cities. And the network’s efficiency is similarly low, with a limited number of primary corridors carrying the bulk of the traffic. Notwithstanding, it is worthy of note that between May 2011 and March 2015, a total number of 161 roads stretching over 147.347km have been completed across the 20 local government councils. Also not less than 211 roads spanning 211.339km are on-going. In 2013 alone, some 58 new roads covering over 64.527km were completed. Fashola is making serious effort to right the wrongs of previous administrations.
Provision of roads, buses, railroads, railroad units and cable cars are not the only place where uncertainty lurks. How permanent are these demographic trends? Will birth rates turn down? Will immigrants find greener economic field elsewhere? The just concluded National Conference recommends the creation of 13 new states out of the existing 36. This, if implemented could lead to another mass exodus.
Nevertheless, Fashola has demonstrated what governance at all levels should prove to be – a crucible for experimentation. By this, he throws a very big challenge to all who hold the reins of power in all the states of the federation including whoever succeeds him as governor come 2015. The energy, intellect and originality with which he steered this ground breaking achievement; such a legacy that has put Lagos on an intricate network of wheels as it climbs steadily up the motorisation ladder, will earn him a place in history as one of Nigeria’s greatest achievers.
Member, The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport, CILT Nigeria
Rector; Emdee Shipping & Maritime College, Apapa