By Lateef Raji (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lagos population is estimated to consist of over 21 million people, buttressing the United Nations projection that by this year 2015, the population would be 20 million making it the 3rd largest city in the world. With over four million cars and 100,000 commercial vehicles on the roads (when the national average is 11 vehicles per kilometre), Lagos daily records an average of 227 vehicles per every kilometre of roads. One of the major fallouts of this scenario is the unending and highly scary Lagos traffic gridlock. Areas mostly affected by the traffic gridlock include Apapa, Orile-Mile 2-Badagry axis, the Alimosho conurbation, Lagos Island, Ojota-Ketu-Mile 12-Ikorodu axis among others.
Like it is with most cosmopolitan cities across the world, it is, perhaps, not strange that Lagos experiences continuous queues of vehicles, which block an entire network of intersecting streets, bringing traffic in all directions to a complete standstill. Popularly referred to in local parlance as ‘go slow’, traffic gridlock has become one of the sour identities of Lagos, which succeeding governments in the State have been trying to do away with. In an attempt to tackle the traffic problem, the State government, in the last sixteen years, has rehabilitated and reconstructed major roads across the State.
Furthermore, many agencies such as LASTMA, LASDRI, LAMATA, etc. were created mainly to deal with the traffic situation in the metropolis. The Lagos Traffic Radio initiative is also an integral part of the arrangement to address traffic congestion in the State. The idea behind the Traffic Radio is to enable motorists and commuters to have first-hand information on transportation and traffic news; traffic alerts and diversions, while they drive or before leaving their homes.
In-spite of this, however, the traditional Lagos traffic gridlock has continued unabated. To effectively address the transportation and traffic challenges of a complex mega city such as Lagos, the issue of mass transit has to be properly and effectively brought into the picture. One of the major causes of traffic gridlock in Lagos could be traced to the dearth of an effective and efficient mass transit system. It is essentially because many Lagosians do not have sufficient confidence in public transportation that makes virtually everyone who owns a car to put it on the road. The result is that there are more vehicles on Lagos roads than any other major city in Africa. This, of course, is partly responsible for the chaos that we experience on a daily basis on our roads. Irrespective of the works so far done in the area of road expansion and rehabilitation by the State government, if nothing is done to reduce the number of vehicles that ply Lagos roads, daily traffic gridlock would continue to be a biting reality.
Consequently, there is an urgent need to expand the operational scope of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Though the system does not use all the features of some of the renowned BRT systems across the world, it still has many advantages over the traditional bus system. Universally, the BRT system has the capability of moving huge numbers of people from one place to the other at a time in a faster and more convenient way. The system operates on the concept of utilizing dedicated lanes in areas where competition with highway traffic would be greatest while it makes use of existing highways and roads in areas that are less congested in order to reduce costs. According to the Lagos Metropolitan Transport Authority, LAMATA, by 2009 the BRT system has lifted over 52million passengers within a year of its full operation.
The BRT scheme, if well expanded and strategically developed could help in drastically reducing traffic gridlock in the State. A first step towards achieving this would be for the State government to inject over 1000 brand new busses into the already existing fleet of the scheme. Once this is done, the next strategy would be for the operatives of the system to create more routes across the State for the scheme to thrive better and meet more needs. In creating these new routes, priority should be given to areas with greater population density such as Badagry, Mowe-Ibafo axis, Sango-Ota axis, Alimosho among others.
Additionally, the BRT scheme could be planned to include commuting within short distances within a particular local government or location. For instance, people commuting within Apapa, Ikeja, Lagos Island, Alimosho, Yaba, etc. could rely on BRT buses within the locations for their daily and routine movement. Once this is done and the operation of BRT in these locations becomes credible, effective and efficient, more commuters would opt to leave their cars at home and would willingly embrace the BRT alternative. For the system to become more reliable, effective arrangements must be made for constant repair and refurbishment of buses in the BRT fleet. A well-planned culture of maintenance must be embraced and strictly adhered to. The sorry state of some of the busses in the BRT fleet makes this quite imperative.
With time, especially with an effective and efficient BRT inspired mass transit system in place, government should make efforts to gradually phase out commercial buses (Danfo) on Lagos roads. A large percentage of the chaos that we daily witness on Lagos roads are partly caused by commercial vehicles. In Lagos State, it is not uncommon to see commercial vehicles illegally parked on either side of the road. Some even drive in such careless fashions that make nonsense of traffic laws while others drive on or across the road median. In Lagos, the recklessness of commercial bus operatives is legendary.
Public transportation is too important and strategic to be left in the hands of a poorly organised set of individuals. This could jeopardize our renewed drive for foreign and local investments in the state. The traffic situation of every city determines the volume of investment that is attracted to the city. No sane investor would want to put his money in a place that is renowned for irresponsible traffic behavior.It is, therefore, imperative, all other things being equal, for the State Government to address the nagging question of commercial busses in the state, once and for all. To avoid any public outcry that such step might attract, especially from transport unions, willing commercial bus owners and drivers could be incorporated into the enlarged BRT system to avoid job losses.
Similarly, we need to strictly enforce, to the letter, the 2012 Lagos Traffic Law, especially the sections that have to do with the restriction of the operations of commercial motorcycle’s operators in 495 designated strategic highways and routes out of a total number of 9,700 available routes within the metropolis. Compounding the disorderliness on Lagos roads is the activities of Commercial Motor Cycles. This is possible because of traffic jam, surging population and dare devil riders who are ready to circumvent the traffic rule for profit. The menace commercial motorcycles constitute to the public transport system is manifested in disobedience of traffic law, carrying more than a passenger, ridding without the use of helmet, indiscriminate use of horn, driving unregistered motorcycles and without license, destruction of road facilities and physical attack on other road users. These are in addition to ferrying arms and ammunition for criminals who use them for nefarious and life-threatening activities.
Besides the agony and grief it brings upon its victims, the lawlessness of okada riders on major highways is quite nauseating thereby making commuting a harrowing experience. Therefore, to guarantee the free-flow of traffic and to ensure that the movement of investors coming into the state is not hindered and put at risk, the law restricting the movement of commercial motorcycles must be strictly enforced by the relevant security agencies. The difference between animal kingdoms and human societies is that in the latter, laws are made to regulate human conducts in order to avoid the creation of a state of anarchy. To underscore how unpopular okada has become as a mode of transportation across the country, the Federal Capital Territory and over 15 other states have similarly promulgated laws regulating the activities of okada in their respective states. Some of these states are Enugu, Anambra, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Kano, Kwara, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Edo, Katsina among others. A week ago, the Ondo State Government also banned its activities from the metropolis to the feeder roads.
This is where a place like Ojota comes to mind. In view of its strategic location, a world-class motor park could be constructed in Ojota and it must be made mandatory for every commercial vehicle coming into Lagos from the Lagos-Ibadan axis to disembark at the proposed motor park. To make things easier, a road could be constructed under the popular Odo Iya Alaro Bridge, similar to what we have under the Otedola Bridge, to reduce any traffic snarl that could come up as a result of envisaged traffic activities from the proposed motor park. Similar world class motor park arrangements could be made in places such as Badagry, Alakuko along Abeokuta Expressway, among others. This would go a long way in curbing traffic gridlocks in these areas.
It should, however, be emphasised that, ultimately, an integrated approach to public transportation, that entails the simultaneous use of road, rail and water, is the key to effectively addressing traffic gridlock in the State. With over 4 million cars and 100,000 commercial vehicles on the roads, Lagos daily records an average of 227 vehicles per every kilometer of roads. This development makes it imperative for the State Government to vigorously pursue an alternativemode of transportation such as rail and water for mass transits. Lagos is the undisputed economic nerve centre of West Africa, with every potential to become the 3rd largest city in the world after Shanghai and Mumbai. Today, many mega cities of the world depend on more than one mode of transportation,and Lagos cannot be an exception.
In the long term, it is essential for the State Government to evolve a comprehensive and holistic integrated transportation system. The need to exploit alternative means of transportation mode cannot be over-emphasized given the complex nature of the sector in the state. One of such other alternatives that need to be effectively exploited by the State government, with passion, is water transportation. Fortunately, the State government has already identified seven corridors for development and mass transportation. Presently, water transportation is gaining attention among commuters.
We need to commit more investments into the ferry system if we are to properly address Lagos’ underutilization of water as a means of transport. The ferry system currently only carries about 18,000 people, even though about one-fifth of the city is made up of water in the form of lagoons, creeks and the Atlantic Ocean. Creation of new jetties will compliment the existing ferry infrastructure. Until we increase our investment in water transport, the innate water transportation potential of Lagos State would continue to be grossly under- utilized and as such chaos would always continue to be the culture on our roads.
Additionally, the Lagos Light Rail project needs to be expanded. Major Mega cities of the world operate on an effective light rail transport scheme which is cheaper and faster and has the capacity to move more people at a time. It has the capacity to capture up to seven times as many passengers daily as the BRT system. We need to attract interested foreign investors to come up with the needed funding and technical expertise that would make the vision of a light-rail scheme for Lagos a reality. Without a doubt, the introduction of an effective and efficient rail system could further ease traffic congestion and help meet the rising demand for affordable mass transit in the metropolis. Integration between multiple transport solutions will offer Lagosians a greater variety of mass transit options, and will improve quality of life and the ease of doing business in the city.
On a final note, efforts should be made to incorporate every available and workable initiative that would ease transportation in the state into the scheme of things. Recent studies suggest that mass transit schemes like BRT systems and light rail networks alone do not necessarily reduce overall car traffic when there is high demand for road space. To reduce congestion, expanding transport options may need to be complemented by other initiatives like congestion pricing in areas like Lagos Island, Apapa and Ikeja to discourage the use of cars and a shift towards compact, mixed-use development. The cable car system, which, among others, is an affordable means of transport that can reduce average journey times by up to 70 minutes each direction, is one of the numerous initiatives that the State Government should embrace.
It is in view of the critical nature of public transportation to the overall effectiveness of other sectors, that the State Bovernment needs to embrace innovation and technology in addressing the peculiar traffic situation in the state. The commitment of the State Government to improving the transportation sector in Lagos State should be more defining because it affects almost every aspect of life of the citizenry. It determines the prices of goods and services, defines how easily the children can get to school and, indeed, the productivity of the entire economy. The efficiency with which people, goods and services can move from one point to the other largely determines the quality of life of a society. Hence, every investment and every effort geared towards the improvement and repositioning of the sector count.