Four months ago, Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, unveiled a plan to introduce what he described as a world class traffic information and management system to drastically change the state of Lagos traffic. When it becomes operational soon as the Governor promised, the envisaged sustainable solution required for urgent decongestion of black spots such as Third Mainland Bridge, Lekki-Epe Expressway, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Abule-Egba and Dopemu would have been set in motion. Among other suppositions, this smart network of cameras, road sensors, and electronic displays designed to collect and deliver real time information to commuters and help to regulate traffic would be one of Ambode’s answers to his sworn critics including The Economist of London.
Since assuming office at the end of May, the Governor has introduced a few populist gestures in contrast to some perceived high-handed traffic management policies of his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola. One of such gestures was an express order to the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) to adopt a civil approach to traffic law enforcement. This order required that LASTMA release all impounded vehicles free of charge to their owners regardless of the gravity of their offences, and again that LASTMA should go about their duties with least measure of force. But this backfired.
The reform had gone down well with Lagosians but on the contrary, it reduced the once dreaded LASTMA to a demoralized toothless bulldog. Crestfallen, LASTMA was said to have resorted to the ambush theory. Consequently, the city traffic situation worsened, treating city dwellers to a cocktail of undesirable socioeconomic and environmental effects, increasing stress and pollution levels, and reducing overall productivity. Under normal circumstance, Lagosians spend an average of 20% of their income on transportation but increased journey time occasioned by congestion brought additional costs forcing the Governor to reverse the order and to invoke full implementation of the 2012 Lagos State Road Traffic Law. It is obvious that Governor Ambode wants Lagosians to spend less time in traffic and more in their offices and at work. It was this desire that informed his decision to adopt the Intelligent Transport System (ITS).
But can ITS solve the Lagos traffic problems since experiences have shown that no single measure can solve traffic congestion problems? Papacostas and Prevedouros, both of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, say ITS provides tools for implementation of both supply and demand congestion countermeasures. Incidentally, existing urban transport infrastructure shows that Lagos State has, over the years, invested commendably in a combination of measures with Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) leading the supply category and LASTMA overseeing the demand. Essentially, while Supply measures focus on the transport system and adding capacity to it by means of new roadways, freeways, interchanges, transit lines, ferryboat docks, new rail technology and modernized bus fleet, Demand measures on the other hand focus on motorists and travellers and attempt to modify their trip-making behavior by means of pricing, restrictions, and other incentive and disincentive policies.
Supply-type ITS tools include early incident detection and resolution, optimized signal operation based on real-time demand, freeway management with ramp metering, accident avoidance with variable message signs warning of upcoming conditions, and bus system coordination. Demand-type ITS tools include the provision of real-time traffic congestion information at various places for informed travel decisions. Car travellers with some degree of flexibility may postpone a trip, delay it, or make it in different mode, if the roadways are congested. Also in-vehicle devices may switch demand from a congested route to an alternate route, thereby improving the performance of the entire corridor system.
Lagosians make one economic argument in response. They say such trendy Information Communication Technology (ICT) investments by governments have always either ended up as pipe dreams or as economic drainpipes. But this thinking does not work when it comes to urban transport infrastructure in Lagos as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Lite Rail initiatives have proved. Lagos State’s investment in ITS will be repaid many times over in form of gains in journey time, improved productivity, and creation of new jobs as new ICT firms spin off.
There is no harm in constructively criticizing government but it would be churlish to criticize projects that seek to systematically design advanced technologies in the field of transportation and to reap benefits for commuters and goods especially in a city like Lagos which currently hosts one of the world’s worst traffic situations. ITS is a globally tested traffic management system which has worked for many cities similar to Lagos. It will not fail here.
Chartered Member, The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILT) Nigeria
22 Ijero Road, Ebute Metta West, Lagos