By Cosmas Omegoh, Olakunle Olafioye and Lawrence Enyoghasu
Standing on one of the pedestrian bridges at Oshodi in Lagos, the newly constructed Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail tracks appear vividly impressive. They run straight – gracefully towards the Abeokuta-Ibadan end in an obvious parallel position, appearing like two consummate marathoners breathtakingly pressing home in a photo finish for the coveted prize.
Looking farther as the eyes could see, the lines fade in the distance. They seem fused into one, appearing partially veiled by the misty cloud that is gradually heralding the hammattan season. Everything about the project underlines its beauty and essence which justify the humongous fund that has been sunk into bringing it to fruition.
But then, not everyone that project is meant to serve is happy at the moment. Some of them are complaining. Not about the trains, for they admit they are state-of-the-art. Not about the services, for they commend them as excellent. Not about the tracks for they are firmly in place, but about the fares which they insist are exorbitant, grumbling loudly as they do so. They are vehement that the fares are too high for the poor to afford, wondering why they are by far higher than bus fares even when the train services are being parroted to be for the masses.
Service costs between N3,000 and N6,000
Our reporter gathered that not long after the laying of the track was completed, the Lagos-Ibadan train service was launched recently, following what the Nigerian Railway Corporation announced as trial fares.
It was learnt, for instance, that for the Zone 1-2 fare which is for Lagos to Ibadan, the 24-seated fare is N6,000; 56-seated fare is N5,000; 68-seated fare is N3, 500; while the 88-seated fare is N2,500.
For Lagos to Abeokuta which is in Zone 1, 24- seated fare costs N4,500; 56-seated fare goes for N3,500; 68-seated fare is N3,000; while passengers pay N2,000 for the 88-seated service.
On the other hand, for the Zone 2 of the Standard gauge railway service from Abeokuta to Ibadan, the 24-seated service goes for N2,000; 56-seated costs N1,500; while the 88-seated service costs N600.
Shortly before the services commenced, NRC’s District Manager, Mr Jerry Oche assured that the passengers would ride in fully air-conditioned coaches.
He announced that the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge train will leave Ibadan enroute Lagos at 8:00 a.m and at 4:00 p.m, passengers returning to Ibadan would depart Lagos on the same day.
He said: “The newly-introduced standard gauge trains have finally come to fruition as the service is run using newly acquired coaches and locomotives.
“This service is fast, convenient, safe, and relatively cheap. There is an option for everyone as the tickets are available in Economy to First Class rates.
“The journey time from Lagos to Ibadan is two and a half hours which makes more sense going by recent reports of traffic that have characterised Lagos-Ibadan road due to ongoing road construction along that axis.”
But at the moment, the train leaves Ibadan for Lagos at 8:00a.m daily and allows passengers to return at 4:00p.m on a scheduled service.
Our reporter learnt that intending passengers in Lagos have to obtain their tickets from NRC’s terminal in Ebute Meta as the service is yet to be extended to other stations along the route such as Oshodi, Mushin, Ikeja, among others.
We cannot afford exorbitant fares
But apparently given the biting economic condition in the country, some passengers and intending ones have been complaining about the fares, describing them as too high. They insisted that the fares were placed out of the reach of the common man the train services were made for.
“I don’t understand why everything about this country is made for the exclusive of the rich.
“When this project was completed, our collective expectation was that the cost of train ride from Oshodi to Ibadan would be something in the region of N1,500.
“Now, how does it sound for the Nigerian Railway Corporation to peg the fares at N6,000 and N3,000? What is there for the poor of this country?
“Now, look at those mass transit buses (pointing at the loading bay of where sprinter buses going to Ibadan were packed) they collect between N1,500 and N1,700 to take people to Ibadan. Is that not a cheap means of transportation for the poor?
“If the government is sincere enough, the cost of a train ride to Ibadan from here ought to be N1,500 or less. This high cost of fares needs to be reversed by the authorities,” a man, Mr Olalekan Oni, told our reporter.
Similarly, another man, who identified himself as Segun, lambasted both the NRC and the Federal Government for the high fares.
“Probably they have their reasons for fixing those high fares, but those reasons are unacceptable.
“For once, this government ought to have allowed the long-suffering masses of this country to benefit from a service such as this.
“What is the essence of a mass transit train if I pay as much as N3,000 to Ibadan for a ride?
“Overseas, we hear that trains are one of the cheapest means of transportation; why is our own different? It is only in Nigeria that the government uses our commonwealth to build facilities and in the end, only the rich will benefit.
“Government uses our money to build roads yet we pay; the government uses our money to build bridges we still pay. Here, in this country, we pay for everything. We get nothing provided by the government cheap.
“Now that the fares are out of our reach, let them go ahead and use it,” he added.
Also complaining, a man, Mr Ojo, told our reporter that if the fares remained as high as they were, he might as well not think about using the train services.
“We will continue to make do with our buses. They are cheaper and faster; they are sure to save us a lot of time.”
Upon learning that one has to obtain their ticket at Ebute Meta before the ride, he said: “Then what is the need? Before one gets to Ebute Meta to queue for the ticket, I’m already halfway to Abeokuta.”
Iya Bose who said she had used the service once to Abeokuta said it was cozy, but also complained about the fare. “The ride is good. I once rode to Abeokuta recently. I was in the economy class.
“I learnt that those who rode in the business class paid higher. They had air conditioners blowing them all over.
“If the management would reduce the fares, more and more people would be going on the train. Doing that would reduce the numbers of vehicles on the roads and accidents as well,” she reasoned.
A bus passenger, who simply identified herself as Kemisola, said thst the consideration of having easy access to motor parks where she is able to connect a bus to her destination, plays a major factor in her decision to travel by bus rather than train. “I had travelled by train on a number of occasions and I found those experiences worthwhile. So, I can say I don’t have any reservation travelling by train, but the fact that it is much easier to connect motor parks where one can easily join a bus to one’s destination at any period of the day, makes traveling by road a better option compared to train services that you will have to get train stations, which are often located in remote places, before boarding a train,” she noted.
Another bus passenger, Michael Whesu said that the Lagos-Ibadan train services can only remain an alternative to road transportation as long as the construction works on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway linger. “But for the endless construction work on the expressway and its attendant traffic, travelling from Lagos to Ibadan shouldn’t take more than one and a half hours and costs less compared to the minimum of N3,000 fare being charged when one travels by train. The noise being made about the Lagos-Ibadan train service is just because of the hardship travellers are facing on the road. By the time the Lagos-Ibadan road project is completed, only a few people will show interest in travelling by train unless the fare is reduced below what bus operators will charge,“ Whesu said.
Road transport still better
With the commencement of the train service along the route, many had anticipated, that would usher in a new lease of movement for commuters who spend hours daily stuck in the Lagos-Ibadan traffic. But the low turnout of passengers for the rail services since the trial operations began a fortnight ago, has since faulted that assumption, thus bringing respite to commercial bus operators who had nursed the fear of dwindling fortune in their business.
Commercial bus operators who spoke to Sunday Sun admitted that they had anticipated that the commencement of the rail services along the route would impact negatively on their business as they expected more passengers would prefer the rail services to travelling by road owning to the unpredictable state of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
But while some blamed passengers’- perceived apathy to the rail services on the high fare charged by the operators, others expressed the view that many passengers have more confidence in road transportation than the train services.
An inter-state commercial bus driver at Sango Motor Park, Adebayo Sheriff, told Sunday Sun that the transport fare payable by passengers to commute from one point to another remains a major consideration before any other thought. “As much as people want to feel comfortable and safe when travelling, most people place a premium on the affordability of the mode of transport they choose.
“Personally, I feel the fare fixed by the government for the rail services is not affordable to most passengers. At motor parks, the fare to Ibadan ranges between N1, 500 and N2, 000 depending on the season and the type of vehicle one wishes to travel in. Yet, many people still consider the fare we charge to be on the high side. That is why you see many of them patronising vehicles that are not attached to any park despite the risk involved. So, there is no way people will shift attention to train services when commercial bus operators charge far below the fare they have to pay when they travel by train,” Adebayo stated.
Indeed, there appears to be more reasons for passengers apathy towards the trial operation of the Lagos-Ibadan train services. While many would easily concede that railway transportation is much safer when compared to road transportation, Raji Olaleye, another inter-state commercial bus operator, said that this argument might not be applicable to Nigeria’s situation.
“Recently a video of stranded train passengers, after the train on which they were travelling developed a fault, trended on social media.
“This is a country where bandits and all manner of criminal elements are making life difficult for people. Imagine what would have happened if those hoodlums had had information about the stranded passengers. If they were travelling by road, you can be sure that many of them would not have waited for the bus to be fixed; they would probably have joined other vehicles, at least to leave that danger zone before the unexpected would happen,” Olaleye reasoned.
Fares fixing beyond NRC
Reacting to the complaints of the concerned citizens, a top official of the NRC while speaking on condition of anonymity told our reporter that “the issues about fare from Lagos to Ibadan is left to the Federal Government to decide and not the NRC. The matter is beyond the NRC.
“The fares will be the prerogative of the Federal Government. I’m sure that the people who cast votes will be a determinant in fixing the fares. They will be the ones that the FG will have in mind to determine the fares.
“But remember that the Lagos –Ibadan service is a brand new one just introduced into the market. Before now, people were not used to it. We are trying to test run it before it fully comes to stay.
“People should allow it to run for up to six months to help everyone to make the right comments on the service. That is just the way I look at it.
“The Kaduna to Abuja and Lagos to Ibadan are almost of the same distance. People are paying the same fare.
“However, I acknowledge that people are entitled to their comments. But I would like to enjoin Nigerians to first patronise the service before making unfavourable comments about it. Join the trains first before making comments. People need to board the train and see the state-of-the-art facilities there – all available to Nigerians.”
When he was reminded that the service was supposed to be for the masses, he said: “Yes, it is a mass transit train which is even reflected in the ticketing.
“There are going to be trains that will be taking people from one station to the other and there are going to be express trains from Lagos to Ibadan; the fares differ. It is for you and me and every Nigerian.”
Again, he enjoined Nigerians to go enjoy the services.
“For now, people can board the trains in Ebute Meta, Abeokuta or Ibadan.
“But before the end of the year, the ticketing will be online. Everything about that has been finalised.
“Let the passengers give the Federal Government the benefit of the doubt because this service is for us. It is just like a seven-day-old baby; the naming ceremony has not been done, yet people are complaining about the future of the baby. Let us give that baby the benefit of the doubt; it is going to be an excellent baby in months to come. People are going to really enjoy the service when it fully goes operational.
“I believe it is one of the greatest achievements of this administration. And it needs to be praised for starting a multi-billion naira project and completing it during its tenure. It is worthy of commendation.
“All classes of people will enjoy it. I know Nigerians will enjoy it.
“One of the added benefits is that it is going to decongest the big cities by creating other settlements along its corridor. People will go to such places and set up their businesses. If you have a house in Ibadan, the service will give you the liberty to leave your house in the morning, to go to Lagos, do your businesses and come back in the evening.
“The fare might change because we are living in a market economy,” he assured.
The Lagos-Ibadan project
The Lagos-Ibadan double standard gauge project is said to have cost $1.5billion; it was financed by China, with the Federal Government providing counterpart funding. The construction was undertaken by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCEC).
The 156.65km standard gauge rail line from Lagos to Ibadan was planned to be the first phase of the 2,733km Lagos-Kano standard gauge rail line estimated to cost $11.117 billion. Travel time between Lagos and Ibadan is estimated to be two and a half hours.
Our reporter who was part of the media crew on the first day of the service trail, quotes a Chinese official as saying that the operation was being conducted by a China-made Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU).
According to him, the train has a standard capacity of 588 passengers, with a limited passenger density.
The economy class cabin has two columns of seats – in threes and twos (separated by the isle) – with adjustable blue curtains covering all the windows. The interior is clean and well-polished; its white, blue, and cream colours radiate with beauty. The cooling system is excellent and could be adjusted for the passengers’ comfort.
The linking doors are air-tight. Passengers can stand to appreciate the environment from the coupler point without feeling any external breeze.
Service for launch in January 2020
Recently, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari would commission the Ibadan-Lagos railway service on a yet-to-announced date in January 2021.