Commuters’ woes in Lagos have continued to multiply in the recent months. The COVID-19 guidelines for the transport sector in the country, part of which mandated transporters to reduce the number of passengers in transit in order to reduce body contact among passengers, and to prevent the spread of the virus, resorted in hike in transport fare as motorists made swift move to plug the shortfalls in their daily earnings. Cost of transportation rose significantly to the indignation of commuters whose finances had equally been depleted by economic inactivity occasioned by the nationwide lockdown.
Commuters are accusing commercial bus operators of profiteering at the expense of the commuting public. A passenger told Sunday Sun that despite the relaxation of the nationwide lockdown and with transporters returning to the pre-lockdown mode of operations, nothing has changed in the cost of transportation.
“Before the lockdown, the transport fare from Alagbado to Ketu was N300, but this was raised to N500 during the lockdown because the drivers were compelled to carry reduced number of passengers. But with the situation returning to the old order, they have continued to charge the same amount charged during the lockdown. This is pure wickedness,” the passenger lamented.
Findings by Sunday Sun showed that cost of transportation has skyrocketed by over 100 per cent in the last few months, a development many have partly attributed to the increase in prices of goods and services in the country.
A businesswoman, Mrs Bunmi Ganiu, who deals in recycling business said that suppliers have increased their prices solely due to increase in the cost of transportation.
According to her, “the cost of a kilogram of waste polythene material before the lockdown ranged between N140 and N180, depending on the quality, but now the least price we get is N180. This is not because the materials are scarce or not available, but it’s just due to the increase in the cost of transporting the materials from one point to the other. Expectedly, this has equally affected the price of the final products.”
The recent rise in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise known as petrol, has been identified as one of the major reasons for the hike in transport fare, but not a few people contended that the marginal increase in the pump price of fuel was not a justifiable reason for the astronomical increase in the cost of transportation in the state.
“There is no contention that the recent increase in the price of petrol will lead to increase in transport fares. But the rate at which transporters hiked transport fare is indefensible considering the fact that the majority of them are now loading their buses to capacity contrary to NCDC released guidelines.
“Before the outbreak of Coronavirus in Nigeria, a litre of PMS was N145. It was in the heat of the pandemic that it was reduced as a result of the slide in price of crude oil at the international market. So now that the price has gone up to N160, the difference in price before the lockdown and now is just N15. How then do we justify the over 100 per cent increase in transport fare to the 10 per cent increase in the price of petrol? It is really bad because Nigerians are just being unduly exploited,” Ganiu argued.
But commercial bus operators are, however, quick to justify the hike in transport fares, giving legion of other reasons. While commuters see no justification for the astronomical increase for the over 100 per cent hike in transport fare with just 10 per cent increase in pump price of fuel, some commercial drivers identified the series of extortions by government agencies and members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers as the major plights of commercial bus operators in Lagos State.
A commercial bus driver, Mr Kolawole Suraju, wants Lagosians to direct their grievances over the exorbitant transport fare on government agencies and NURTW members who extort commercial bus operators blind without contributing anything to their wellbeing and welfare.
According to him, “driving in Lagos is survival of the fittest because of the numerous ugly encounters commercial bus operators have with agberos, police, operatives of the Lagos State Task Force and not to talk of men of the Lagos State Traffic Maintenance Agency, LASTMA, on daily basis. These people make life and living difficult for bus drivers and their conductors with their ceaseless extortions. The members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers demand all manners of levies ranging from security levy, environmental levy. You have to settle them whenever you pick and drop passengers at major bus stops and other charges. And because of the frequency of the payments, you find it difficult to really account for the amount you spend daily in settling these people, but you can be sure of parting with nothing less than 10 to 15 per cent of your daily earnings. By the time one calculates what one spends on fuel and other expenses incurred in the course of the day, you will discover that even the agberos go home with more money than one does. It’s really sad.”
Suraju accused the government of paying blind attention to the plights of commercial drivers in Lagos, saying the failure of the government to stop the extortions going on on Lagos roads is largely responsible for the high cost of transportation in the state.
“Government should not stop at constructing and maintaining the roads we ply alone, it should also take interest in every other activities that go on the road. Agberos are extorting us, Lagos State taskforce are extorting and killing our people, but the government is not saying anything”, he alleged.
Speaking in the same vein, Mr Ikhile Francis, a commercial driver, who operates his own personal bus, said that Lagosians will continue to pay high transport fares unless the government rids the state roads of agberos and address the issue of extortion by its agencies on the roads.
“Two weeks ago, the operatives of the Lagos State Taskforce killed two of our members and claimed they (the victims) drove against traffic. But every Lagosian knows that it was a lie. The Lagos taskforce is the most brutal among government agencies on the roads. Once they intercept you on the road you can be sure of parting with your entire returns for the week. That is the reason commercial bus drivers try to avoid them like plague.
“So, extortion by the police, agberos and other government agencies is an area we will like the government to come to our rescue because it is really killing us and our business. Commercial bus operators in Lagos are like orphans with no one to care for them. Police will extort us, agberos will take their own, LASTMA, taskforce. By the time you get home you are left with little or nothing to show for your toil for the whole day. If somebody like me, who owns and works with my own bus, finds it difficult to take commensurable returns home, how much more other drivers who still have to settle bus owners. Besides the hike in the pump price of fuel, extortions by these people is also responsible for the high transport fare in the state,” he submitted.
Interestingly, beyond the several levies transporters pay to NURTW, Mr Mustapha Disu, another commercial driver, said that the members of the union also determine the amount of fare to charge passengers on some occasions.
“When you are loading at the garage, the union collect the fare of one of the passengers in the bus. So, if you intend to charge N200 and the person collecting this particular levy tells you that he will collect N300 for that trip what that means is that you should charge N300 per passenger. In that situation you are left with no choice, but to add additional N100 to what you intend to charge.
“The obvious reason cost of transportation is higher in Lagos than every other state of the federation is largely due to the activities of government agencies and members of the NURTW. Go to Ibadan, Abeokuta or any other state in the North or the East, transport fare is not as high as you have in Lagos. Why does a passenger have to spend over a thousand naira going to and fro Sango and Oshodi? It’s largely due to the extortion of the motorists by these enemies of the people. Agreed that other factors such as the poor state of the roads and the recent challenges of COVID-19 as well as increase in the price of petrol may have further complicated the entire matter now. Government needs to look into the activities of police, agberos, LASTMA, and the ruthless operations of Lagos taskforce so as to help the masses who bear the final brunt,” Disu admonished.
Lagosians, therefore, appealed to the state government to save the commuting public from high transport fares occasioned by illegal levies by road union workers and extortion by government agencies saddled with the responsibilities of maintaining law and order on the roads.
“It is very unfortunate that successive governments in the state would allow this madness on our roads to linger up till today. It hurts me greatly each time I see the members of NURTW engaging commercial drivers and their conductors in physical combat while trying to extort them. Sometimes, I ask these motorists what they get in return from the union, but their answer is nothing. Who does that? The government knows all this, but decides to look the other way, because they use them during elections. The police will also lay ambush for them to get their own share and when they board public bus they will refuse to pay by claiming ‘staff’. The worst of all them is the taskforce. At the end of the day it is the passengers that pay. It’s really sad,” Mrs Afusat Oni, a passenger, lamented.