Special Report: Abuja Transport Policy And Its Attendant Hiccups

July 15 04:39 2013 Print This Article

Abuja residents queuing up to board the so called subsidy buses

By ‘Tunde Babalola, Abuja

When the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) under Mr Nasir el-Rufai banned the use of motorcycle popularly known as okada within the city in 2006, there was hue and cry.

Many residents disparaged the policy wondering how on earth the FCTA wanted the masses to move around in Abuja.

Seven years later, those who were not in the nation’s capital then will not even know that there was a time okada riders were everywhere in the Abuja’s busy city centre constantly on a race with other road users compounding the city’s traffic situation.

For those that came into Abuja in the 80s, visitors to the capital city as well as residents and other road users could have wondered why the government had to build such wide and extensive road networks across the city but today exceeding population explosion has turned the story upside down.

Ordinarily movement from one place to another in the FCT should not be such a herculean task. Conversely, modernisation, urbanisation and increase population, which are undoubtedly great factors for development of mankind, have contributed greatly to man’s problems including transportation.  

Obviously concerned with today’s chaotic transport situation and the need to bequeath to FCT residents a world class transportation services in the territory as it is done in most civilized cities world over must have been the propelling reason behind the Senator Bala Abdulkadri Mohammed led FCT Administration to introduce the new policy on land transport with a view to restoring the much needed order on Abuja roads and ensure seamless movement of humans and goods in, around and out of the territory.

FCT officials had repeatedly been echoing that the policy is not meant to inflict pains on residents of the FCT but to reduce the stress to move around the city.

The policy which is not an out-right ban on operations of mini-buses in the entire FCT commenced on 3rd June, 2013 with prohibition of the mini-buses operators plying the major highways of the city’s metropolis, but restricted to the territory’s feeder routes, the area councils and satellite towns.

Significantly, enforcement of the new transport policy legally permits only the high capacity buses, taxis and private vehicles to exclusively ply the major entry and exit routes and highways of the city centre, as well as the major roads within the metropolis.

The new transport policy introduced since its second coming on June 3rd 2013 has been attracting hardship, pain, agony, and long faces on a cross section of resident of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). 

Though, the Minister of the FCT promised that the new policy would ease transportation and movement in and out of Nigeria’s capital city prior to the introduction, but since June 3rd when it took effect, the impact on social and economic life, including schooling and civil service work, has been substantially negative.

The minister had while speaking through his Senior Special Assistant on Political Matters and National Assembly, Mr Usman Jibril Wowo, stated that that the policy “will make people move from the satellite towns to the city with ease and at a cheaper rate as the highest fare is N150 for people from Gwagwalada, Kuje and Zuba and as low as N50 for movements within the business district.”

But the experience of residents has been different. Rather, not only have transportation costs increased, movement for students, civil servants, traders and all other residents has become a problem so much so that schooling and academic life in the FCT faces a major setback.

A teacher at the Pilot Science Primary School, Wuse Zone 5, who pleaded for anonymity, is among those who come into town from Kubwa, a satellite town, every working day. Before now, by 7.30am she would have gotten to school, ready for the day’s business. But not anymore.

Since early June when the new transport system commenced she has been coming late to school because getting a bus to town has become such a hassle.

But even more worrying is the impact on students. According to her, many of them get to school late, sometimes past 10am, and thus miss part of the morning classes.

Even for those who come early, because many of them have to wake up much earlier now and also face a hell of a time getting to school, a great number of them sleep for the most part of the morning classes.
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According to her, “In the past we used to punish students for late-coming but we find out now that if we are to punish them they may not be able to attend more than three lessons before the day is over and this will definitely affect performance”.

The policy is also taking its toll on the parents as workers who have to commute from outside the city now report very late at work while some who cannot put up with the stress just stay at home.

For usually laid back civil servants, many have chosen to report at work only on specific days, sometimes only on Mondays or twice a week.

By 3:30pm-4:00pm in the afternoon, offices are nearly almost deserted as workers migrate to the parks to secure a good position on the queue and also to beat traffic, leaving their jobs to suffer.

The situation at designated terminals where the big buses are meant to move commuters in and out of the city is most pitiful during peak hours usually early in the morning and between 3.00 pm and 4:00pm and is marked by long queues of commuters who are eager to secure a space in the limited buses provided by the government.

Investigations by FrontiersNews revealed that commuters spend between 45 minutes and as much as two hours waiting at designated bus stop for these buses.

In spite of the queues which are meant to make the process of entering a bus orderly, there is still occasional pushing and struggling by the impatient or unruly, making the place rowdy and conducive for pickpockets.

Also, because of the huge numbers of passengers, the buses are overloaded with many standing in the aisles thus leaving the journey prone to accidents. Some commuters have to stand all the way to their destinations.

At the Nyanya Park, designated as terminus for moving commuters from the Karu/Nyanya/Mararaba axis, passengers sometimes have to wait for two hours to get a bus. The scene is pitifully chaotic as thousands of commuters gather as early as 5am in a bid to get a bus to town.

Most of the respondents who spoke with our correspondent are full of tales of woe and wonder how a democratic government can foist such hardship on citizens.

Mr Stanley Chukwu, a self – employee man did not mix words as he condemned the new system stating that it is aimed at “punishing the masses”.

He added that the cost implication of the policy is high as what he spends now on transportation has doubled.

He complained that the buses are restricted to particular routes and compelled to leave at a particular time.

The story as narrated by Mr Michael Chinonso, a civil servant and Mararaba resident is not different as he lamented that the earliest time he has reached office since the commencement of the new policy is 9am. He noted that government has a lot to lose with the new policy as it has greatly affected productivity because workers resume to the office late and leave early.

Mr Tony Oga, another civil servant who resides in Nyanya said the policy is anti-people and complained of the high cost on commuters. For example, like many others, he now has to take two to three buses/cabs to work instead of one which means that he has to pay more.

He lamented that as things are now his salary would only be sufficient to pay for his transportation leaving him with nothing to cater for his other needs.

These are some of the realities of the almost six weeks old transportation policy in Abuja that has outlawed mini-buses from the city’s centre and inflicted greater hardship on residents.

Commuters are yet to adjust to the transportation plan and many do not see the plan working because it is defective and ill timed.

Apart from the sufferings of commuters, the policy has drastically increased traffic congestion in the city as most residents who hitherto leave the cars at home to join commercial buses popularly referred to as Araba because of the cost effectiveness now resort to driving to and from office.

The major criticism against the policy is that the FCT administration has not provided enough big buses to move the huge population of workers who come into town daily from satellite towns that surround the capital city.

Mr Abdullahi Magaji, a tailor who lives in Dutse Alhaji but who has a shop in Wuse Market said that it was irresponsible of the government to rush into such a policy that would impact on many lives without adequately providing for alternatives.

He said, “If you look at the queues and the number of the buses available, then you will see that this government is not serious. I do not think they planned the whole thing well or had the interest of commuters at heart when they came up with the idea”.

But another civil servant, Mrs Ngozi Odiachi said the policy would have been a good policy if government had test ran its effectiveness and efficiency before its formal launch. This was a position amplified by Mr Chinonso who suggested that government should have taken a cue from the system in Lagos where privately owned buses are allowed to operate along with the BRT.

Mrs Odiachi suggested that government should have a rethink on the policy and increase the number of the buses with effective logistics.

She observed that it has increased traffic congestion as some commuters manage to go to office with their old moribund cars. Truly, traffic in and out of Abuja has worsened since the policy took effect. The traffic prone Abuja/Mararaba/Keffi road is worse off as commuters now spend up to two hours on the road, particularly after office hours.

Some commuters who are positive about the new transportation policy say with more high capacity buses available and an extension of the routes and terminals, the plan would prove more effective than it is now

Meanwhile, in his determination to fine tune the new transport policy in the Federal Capital Territory owing to the numerous complaints it has attracted, the FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed last Tuesday set up a Committee to work out modalities to increase the number of high capacity buses plying territory’s major roads.

He announced the setting up of the committee at a meeting he summoned to review the implementation of the new transport policy especially against the backdrop of calls by commuters for injection of more buses on the routes.
The Committee which has the Transport Secretary, Mr Jonathan Ivoke as Chairman and the Director, Public Transportation, Mr Kola Garba as Secretary was given two weeks within which to submit its reports.

The Minister charged the Committee to look at all pending proposals from intending operators of high capacity bus mass transit in the FCT with a view to expanding the frontiers for increased participation.

He particularly tasked the panel with the assignment of getting more buses on the road in order to alleviate the pains of commuters. He also charged them to recommend ways of ensuring that only buses that are of high standard are introduced on the FCT roads.

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