Fixing public transport in Nigeria

February 22, 2017

Nigeria is one of the largest countries in Africa without a decent or well-functioning public transportation system. The public transportation issue itself is not only limited to large cities such as Lagos, Abuja or Kano, but it also involves many intra-city transportation hubs and rural transportation systems. It is, without a doubt, one of the largest and most complex issues that the Nigerian government and private sector must tackle from all fronts. Congestion is without dispute a handbrake on economic productivity, but the range of solutions for reducing congestion aren’t harmonised.They all tend to be very expensive and many impose unacceptable compromises on Nigerians basic freedoms such as proposals to ban cars from cities. Increased investment in public transport is a feature of many proposed solutions for alleviating congestion. It is true that Nigeria has under-invested in public transport systems in past decades and it’s equally true that it has under invested in private transport. In short, some Nigerian economists have cheered a rising population while passing the buck when it comes to funding and delivering the infrastructure needed to support that growth to Nigeria’s future generations. Undoubtedly, rising congestion levels are making it feel like crunch time now and its time for President Buhari’s team to work on a solution.It has turned out that the supply of public transport has failed to fulfil the market demand, so people collectively opt for private vehicles over public transportation in Nigeria. Now, for over the last five years, the average number of public transportation users has decreased rapidly, partly due to the overall growth of the Nigerian economy, which has increased the number of middle-income earners and the market’s vehicle affordability.It is worth noting that public transport only accounted for less than 5 percent of total vehicles on the Nigerian road. This growth still is not concurrently carried out with enough responsibility from the citizens. Vehicle ownership symbolises prestige and relates to socioeconomic status, while quantity is valued over quality and the more vehicles one owns the better their perceived economic status.

Gridlock and inconvenient public transport systems are a hindrance to productivity and a winning strategy to increase citizens’ stress levels. Nigerian cities that were initially developed for human purposes, are now transforming into a container of vehicles, growing at over 15 percent rate annually. I gathered all this details while engaging a European company that want to contract your blogger with an “internet of things” based solution to be implemented in Nigeria’s transport system. Without going into the details, there are considerably several main issues with regard to the Nigerian public transportation system, constituting infrastructure, government support and regulatory framework, public behaviour, as well as business ecosystems.For example, Lagos as the national centre of development and economic growth is, ironically, becoming the place in most need of a public transport fix.The city contends, on a daily basis, with a constant overcapacity in new buses and old city buses operating for decades, of which some do not even have speedometers or proper brake systems. Given such conditions, it is only natural that merely a quarter percent of citizens are willing to use public transportation.It is clear that transportation issues in cities also spring from the imbalance between public transportation facilities and public demand. The difference is that Nigerian cities face an oversupply of public transport to accommodate the small number of passengers, which is in this case the cause of the congestion.In these areas, public transportation tends to have low occupancy partly due to ticket prices, overly frequent stops, and short routes. This brings another vexing issue which is the poor level of driving by those operating transport services. Reckless driving, haphazard stops in improper areas, and a general disregard for road rules are only a few of the driving concerns.

Nigeria’s regulatory framework is an example of poor transport management. As opposed to the constantly declared plan to fix the country’s transportation system, the applied policy is showing the contrary. Despite the aggressive attempts to mitigate energy and fuel consumption in order to reduce government spending on fuel subsidies, the proliferation of private vehicles such as motorcycles and cars always jack up fuel consumption and take a significantly chunk out of the federal government budget.Seen from an industrial point of view, Nigeria’s case of public transport is a double edged sword as there are some parties who benefit from the grief of others.In my view, as we spoke, there is no quick fix to Nigeria’s transportation issues. The problem itself involves many stakeholders, requiring the government to cultivate a genuine willingness as the regulator to revitalise the industrial environment, and above all to encourage a genuine willingness to solving the various problems.Nigerian government needs to create a more competitive marketplace for entrepreneurs while averting monopolies. Inviting foreign investors or consultants is also worth considering to educate local entrepreneurs and authorities on how best to improve the sector.Moreover, educating Nigerian public about the benefits of using public transportation is pivotal because initiatives such as obligating citizens to make use of public transport on a certain day of each week could be some of the cornerstones toward improving the overall sentiment.The reality is that Nigerian public transport can only go so far in alleviating congestion. Social and economic change to the nature of work is changing the shape of employment decisions and has forever changed the nature of the commute. Public policy officials, urbanists and Nigeria’s state and federal politicians who pretend that all that’s needed to solve congestion is massively increased investment in rail or dedicated busway networks are deluded. This thinking is rooted in nostalgic notions of work, unrelated to the future of work.The complex relationship between transport and disadvantage in Nigeria has previously been overlooked in both the research and policy sectors. Whereas those Nigerians without cars are typically seen as the most transport disadvantaged, there is some data to suggest that owning a car can be financially disadvantageous and create significant levels of financial stress.If the Nigerian public voted for public transport, the system would be much better. However, they seem happy with their expensive cars and gridlock.

Contador Harrison