Public transportation systems are about so much more than bringing you from A to B. Engineer and transport planner Otunola Abiodun Adebayo sheds light on emerging urban transport systems in Lagos, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous city, from the perspective of urban health and safety.
Before the advent of the Lagos Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), public transportation in Lagos was characterised by a plethora of challenges; fragmented bus services for the nine million daily commuters, a large number of single-bus owners, undefined stops, unregulated, fluctuating fares, and numerous rickety, dilapidated 12-seater minibus taxis, locally called “danfos.”
The bus fleet – 55,000 in number – included scores of the smoke-belching 40-50-seater “molue” buses, colloquially referred to as “49-sitting, 99-standing,” which saw commuters packed like sardines. The buses frequently broke down or had accidents; resulting in poor safety ratings, and endangering the lives of commuters and other road users. This not only caused acute traffic congestion along major routes in the city but the fact that a large part of people’s often insufficient income was spent on inefficient transportation and countless valuable hours squandered in traffic also had negative socio-economic impacts.
The Lagos Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
To solve the major transportation problems in Lagos, the BRT Lite was commissioned into passenger service in March 2008 along the CMS-Mile 12 Corridor as a pilot of a fast, reliable, comfortable, and accessible bus-based transport system.
Given the tremendous uptake of the BRT and daily ridership growing to over 200,000 passengers, which is more than 150 per cent higher than expected passenger figures, an extension of the BRT from Mile 12 to Ikorodu was commissioned in November 2015. In August 2020, an additional BRT service was commissioned on the Oshodi-Abule-Egba Corridor, which was very well received by commuters on that route, who used to take more than two hours to cover the 13.5 kilometres distance.
It should be noted that in the planning of the Lagos BRT, the transport operators on the route were seen as major stakeholders and were encouraged to form co-operatives and companies to participate as bus operators. This fostered their buy-in and was a critical success factor.
Improved Urban Health and Safety for All Lagosians
The BRT corridors in Lagos have had numerous positive impacts on the health and safety experienced by Lagosians. The introduction of high-occupancy vehicles has led to a significant decrease in the number of unregulated mini-buses that had hitherto been providing commuter services. The ubiquitous “molue” have virtually disappeared from Lagos roads. Each high-occupancy vehicle (HOVs) introduced for the BRT takes out four of the “danfos”, thus leading to a reduction in the public transport fleet and the introduction of more efficient vehicles, thereby reducing congestion along the BRT corridors. This has also reduced the noise levels, the chaos, and the air pollution experienced daily at the numerous bus stops along the BRT routes.
The frequent accidents associated with the archaic modes of transport have significantly reduced with the advent of the BRT buses, which deployed brand new vehicles within a regulated space. The introduction of the BRT also led to the development of a queuing culture, thereby reducing the mental and physical stress of Lagosians who used to struggle to board buses in the past, with some boarding through the windows.
Another significant way the Lagos BRTs have increased urban health and safety is through a notable increase in the number of pedestrian bridges at most of the bus stops along the BRT corridors. Pedestrian bridges make it easier and safer for commuters to cross the roads and access bus stations. The newly built pedestrian bridges are not only used by BRT commuters but by the general public to cross from one side of the road to the other, hence increasing overall pedestrian safety. Due to this, and the new physical barriers installed on most corridors, the number of people running across the highways has reduced and with it the number of accidents where vehicles collide with pedestrians.
A System Worth Emulating
The Lagos BRTs also give commuters a heightened feeling of safety through introducing monitoring systems and operators keeping records of all their staff. This has further boosted public confidence in the BRT.
In addition, some of the BRT stations are connected to a network of walkways and cycle paths across the city. On average, a user of the BRT would walk a minimum of 500 metres to access the BRT stations, which encourages commuters to be engaged in walking to and from the stations and generally ensuring better health.
The integrated ticketing system (first-mile, last-mile, FMLM), based on the use of loyalty cards, is also commendable and worthy of emulation by other cities. It ensures that commuters can use the same travel card on all regulated means of transport in Lagos – bus, ferry, rail – and combines the advantages of revenue assurance for the operators, operational data gathering for the regulator, and convenience for the commuters.
Moreover, the informal transport operators were merged into the Lagos BRT scheme from the very beginning, ensuring the buy-in and fast adoption of the BRT. This also led to the creation of more jobs as opposed to job losses.
The Future Viability of the BRT
While the services being provided by the BRT are superior compared to the unregulated transport services on other routes across Lagos, some improvements are essential to better serve the public and future proof the BRT system.
First and foremost, we need to convert the current diesel-powered buses into cleaner options. This contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants while improving public health and the general well-being of residents. This is even more necessary as BRT fares have recently been increased after the price of diesel increased by 220 per cent, from 250 to 800 Naira/litre, and bus operations costs have risen astronomically, too.
Therefore, we also need a more sustainable funding strategy, outside of fare revenues only. The higher costs have already adversely affected ridership on most routes. Should there be another fuel and fare increase, the advantages of the BRT scheme might be lost as the affordability would be affected and commuters would likely seek cheaper alternatives – which could then lead to the re of the informal danfos. A more sustainable funding alternative might be in the form of subsidies, special taxation, or additional subventions.
In addition, we need better capacity building for the drivers and the setting up of a drivers’ training institute. Lastly, the integration with other means of transport (to promote inter-modal transport) – especially ferries – would greatly increase ridership of the BRT.
While there are many areas where the Lagos BRT can be improved, the current services have had a vast positive impact on the lives of commuters and residents across the corridors. We should build upon these successes and thereby secure long-lasting urban health and safety for all Lagosians.