Passengers are subjected to long waits, as most of the BRT buses seem to have disappeared. These days, passengers are kept at bus stops for hours
As the sun bore down ferociously on a long queue of restive passengers at a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) terminal at Obanikoro Bus Stop, Lagos, anger could be felt hanging thickly in the air.
Having waited for hours in the searing heat to board shuttles bound for Ikorodu, they were miffed that all the BRT ticketing staff appeared unperturbed about their plight. The workers were also unwilling to volunteer any information on the cause of the commuters’ predicament and when they were likely to get out of it.
As darkness closed in, those who couldn’t stand the wait trudged away to board commercial buses going to their destination.
For Lagos residents who daily rely on the BRT to get around the metropolis, the experience lately has been fraught with pain and anguish. The situation has become the norm in all the corridors across the state.
The birth of the BRT scheme on March 17, 2008, was mired in controversy. It was one initiative that generated widespread misgivings among residents, especially commercial bus operators who saw the scheme as a ploy to drive them out of business.
On the other hand, it was seen as an end to the era of rage on Lagos roads. Many believed it was a panacea to the chaotic traffic situation that had bedeviled the megacity for decades.
BRT, a public-private partnership initiative of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) and supported by the World Bank, was in its gestation during the closing months of the Governor Bola Tinubu administration. It, however, became a reality in the Governor Babatunde Fashola administration.
The scheme was appraised by many as a child of necessity at a time when the Lagos State government was seeking a way out of the intractable traffic logjam that plagued the metropolis. It was, indeed, a welcome development. The scheme was adopted because of its success in several other cities of the world and was believed to be the most viable option for tackling the transport crises that Lagos was notorious for and meeting the mobility needs of commuters.
Among other things, the scheme was appraised as having the ability to help improve air quality, as its entry was believed to be capable of helping to phase out the rickety, smoke-belching molue buses that hitherto dominated Lagos roads, as well as restrict commercial buses (danfo) to feeder roads.
Apart from that, the red buses, which would ply designated routes between the mainland and the island, were expected to help reduce the number of vehicles that throng the roads daily.
The Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) was mandated to enforce compliance on the use of BRT lanes. Drivers of vehicles other than the BRT were made to squeeze through two lanes on most roads while the BRT corridors were being constructed.
And as the scheme officially kicked off, no itinerant preachers or food and drug vendors were allowed to bother passengers. The buses were not littered with waste or remains of stale food and snacks nor or crammed by standing passengers.
Middle class workers, civil servants, bankers, teachers and businessmen, among others, could all move around in BRT buses because of the comfort and cleanliness that was the hallmark of the BRT buses.
Indeed some of the buses were air-conditioned. Commuters got decent rides in relative comfort, even as the drivers and conductors were courteous and went about their duties with dignity.
Sadly, the encomia that trailed the scheme seem to have been drowned by the lamentations of commuters.
When Governor Akinwunmi Ambode assumed office, among the actions he first took was to immediately unbundle the scheme operated and managed by LAMATA and NURTW. He brought in a private operator, Primero. But that move seemed to have worsened the situation for commuters.
When they were introduced on the Ikorodu-TBS route, the blue buses were clean and operated by courteous and friendly drivers. There were also enough buses to convey passengers to the four terminal points of TBS, Costain, Maryland and Mile 12 from Ikorodu. But, over time, the situation changed for the worse.
Nowadays, passengers are subjected to long waits, as most of the BRT buses seem to have disappeared. These days, passengers are kept at bus stops for hours, and whenever one arrives, many passengers that had been waiting would not mind staying on their feet while the ride from Ikorodu to Lagos Island lasts.
A commuter, Kehinde Akinpelu, said most of the buses are in need of proper maintenance. He noted that, in other climes, citizens are usually very proud to use public transportation system to work in order to reduce the stress associated with driving and to help minimise traffic. He maintained that the scheme appears to have failed to meet expectations.
“Now, someone like me that gladly embraced the scheme and stopped driving to work had to have a rethink. In the long run, BRT has failed to meet expectations. I am back with my car on the road,” he said.
In the words of a regular BRT commuter, Toke Douglas, operators of the iconic molue must be looking on in amused silence at the near collapse of a system that was touted to replace it.
According to her, rather than wait endlessly to board rickety, badly maintained BRT buses, she now boards commercial buses and no longer minds being subjected to the usual exploitative tendencies of danfo operators.
Wole Adediji, a banker, asserted that when BRT berthed, it became his preferred choice of transportation because of its strict time schedule. He decried what he described as indiscipline and gross ineptitude displayed by both BRT managers and operators along the line.
“After arriving hours behind my usual resumption time in the office twice, all in my bid to board BRT to the Island, I changed my mind. The scheme almost cost me my job.
“Each time I see a crowd of commuters waiting to board the BRT, I shake my head regrettably. I am still wondering what happened to that lofty scheme,” he said.
Most commuters saddened by the present state of the BRT scheme have complained about the insolence usually displayed by some staff of the BRT. Some also claimed that some of the captains (drivers) could be reckless.
“The vendors, most times, refuse to void tickets and when a passenger draws their attention to it, they would resort to insults. They also now cram the buses with standing passengers. This is a departure from the norm, which the BRT kicked off with.” lamented Chibundu Okereji, a beautician.
Reacting to all the shortcomings of the BRT scheme, the external relations specialist of LAMATA, Mr. Kolawole Ojelabi, said the body would always act in its capacity as a regulatory agency.
He noted that people need to understand that the BRT as a concept aimed at moving people easily and the nature of the buses operating on the corridor.
He, however, admitted that most of the buses were down. But he said there were plans to bring in new buses to boost the fleet.
In the words of a public analyst, most Nigerians don’t understand why a country touted as the giant of Africa and blessed with development ideas still lags behind in maintenance and continuity culture.
Meanwhile, efforts made to speak with the managing director of Primero, the present handling company of BRT, didn’t yield any result. All calls made to his mobile phone were unanswered and unreturned. A message also sent to him via SMS, at the time of going to press, was also not replied.