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07 Jan Written by 

Of Rash Transport Policies and Stranded Commuters

Ill-advised transport policies in Abuja punish the people they are supposed to help: commuters.

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Can anyone imagine Nigerians too tired and apathetic to muster a reaction to a half-hearted yelp of ‘Ole-thief’ at a busy makeshift bus-stop such as Berger Junction? One evening, according to one commuter’s report, a pickpocket got away with not even a scuff to his ear when he was spotted trying to separate a man from his wallet. Expecting a torrent of vicious blows or at least a chase, the thief dropped the wallet to the ground and sped off. Many barely turn their heads to look at him.

The lack of effective public transportation in Abuja is crippling– in more ways than one. For a city deliberately planned for only a few to live in the city center while the majority commute, the FCT deserves a better public transport system. Instead what we have is obviously too few vehicles to service the number who rely on public transportation and a clear inability of the authorities to manage the transport system, if one can call it that.

Abuja’s FCTA Transportation Secretariat states that its vision is “to provide an effective and efficient transportation system in the FCT through pro-active planning, effective monitoring, safe, accident free and infrastructural development… to meet the expectation of the public”. Yet, each time a new administration comes in, there is a flush of activities to tackle public transport but the real problem is the absence of an FCT-owned policy which every ‘newcomer’ to the FCTA is required to uphold and implement.

Katampe New Extension is home to a graveyard of el-Rufai buses. It is safe to estimate that at least 40% of them are no longer in use-- ill-maintained, broken down and eventually abandoned. Same as the London Cab scheme. Yet despite the lack of adequate public transport, every couple of weeks, without fail, Senator Bala Mohammed’s FCTA unleashes at least one commuter-unfriendly policy on Abuja.

Sometimes, the regulation is aimed at dealing with an enforcement issue, that is to ease the traffic congestion caused by drivers of buses and taxis who park anywhere to pick up and offload passengers. However, all that a ban on buses and taxis from central parts of the city does is penalize the commuters and exacerbate the problem.

Here is what Abuja needs: a coherent policy to liberalise the provision of public transport in the city with the authorities focusing on strict but enabling regulation of the various schemes.  The Transportation Secretariat should act as a regulator setting the standards for roadworthiness of the vehicles, public safety requirements, registration and licensing of vehicles and drivers etc. For example, if all public transport vehicles were registered with identification numbers displayed boldly outside and within the vehicles, drivers who flout the law can be tracked and punished.

Reports from commuters and traffic regulators would contain the necessary information to track offenders and when companies are fined for the acts of their drivers, the companies will soon learn to pass on the pain to the driver and weed out those who constitute a nuisance to the public. This way, service providers take responsibility and the government earns some revenue.  And this information also makes it easier for commuters who suffer one-chance abductions and assault to report such incidents to the police because then commuters will have the registration license number for the vehicle and maybe even the driver’s name on record.

Every now and then, residents of Abuja hear tales of light rail-- we know that this is a pipe dream as long as Nigeria cannot generate enough electricity for homes and offices. But what we can expect is a more coherent and realistic public transport system which we can measure and assess.

Organised cities can tell you how many buses, taxis and trains they have, the number of commuters using different platforms daily (New York City subway has 1.2 million passengers a day), the average wait time on certain routes and how many buses/taxis there are per residents in the city.

None of these information is publicly available – which makes it clear that the authorities have no practical ideas to fix the situation. If they did, then there would be a sense that they know how bad the problem is and what the solutions are-- collecting and sharing data is the first step.

As it is, one can only guess-- from the throng of people waiting at Berger Junction, at AY Junction and other major streets in the city center on a working day-- how long people have to wait to get home after a hard day at work. The running, pushing and shoving it takes to board a vehicle is undignified and forms part of the steady dehumanization of Nigerians.

In this city, where the seat of government is hosted, it must be one of the great mysteries of the universe whether officials cruising by, sometimes with a fleet of five cars feel nothing when they see those they are supposed to care for standing stranded for hours under an unrelenting sun or the unforgiving rain.

Dog