• Friday, June 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

Abuja: Beautiful city tainted by poor transport system

In April this year, Joseph Samuel, a 25-year-old graduate, migrated from the bustling city of Lagos to Abuja, the nation’s capital, after securing a job offer with a salary of N200,000 monthly.

Upon arrival, he had to put up at his cousin’s accommodation in Numbwa, a settlement after Suleja in the nearby Niger State, from where he had to spend an average of one hour daily to his office located at the Central Business District.

With his Lagos experience, Samuel was prepared to leave early, hop on a bus and get to work before his 9am resumption time. But he soon realised that moving around in the country’s capital was tough primarily due to the poor transport system.

He said getting on a bike or tricycle – a popular transportation means for the poor in the city – from his house can be challenging, especially in the very early hours of the morning. But the bigger problem is even connecting to the popular ‘secretariat’ or ‘Berger’ from where he can easily access his office.

The Suleja highway is a long stretch with few bus stops in between; hence, most passengers are picked from the park or another pickup point and, most times, do not alight till they arrive at the last stop.

Samuel lamented that one of the days, it took him over one hour before he could get a vehicle to convey him to another park from where he could then catch a taxi to continue his journey.

“It can be so frustrating moving around in Abuja, unlike Lagos where I can get a bike from my entrance immediately and get a bus to anywhere once I am at the Mile 2 bus stop,” he said, narrating his experience.

Anna Ajayi, another Abuja resident, is also suffering from the lack of an efficient public transport system, despite living closer to the city centre.

She stays at the highbrow Asokoro Extension, which is an average 12 minutes drive from her office in Area 11. But living in Asokoro without a car is a major problem because it lacks both commercial taxis and bus routes in and out of the neighborhood.

To get to work and back each day, she would need to either search and negotiate with those who have cars in order to join them. Another option is to hire a taxi, which is often too exorbitant and unsustainable for her monthly salary.

Samuel and Ajayi are just two of thousands of Abuja residents who face different challenges moving around Abuja due to the lack of an effective and efficient transport system, despite the good road network and rail infrastructure provided.

Abuja is located in the centre of Nigeria, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was built mainly in the 1980s and officially became the capital on December 12, 1991.

As the country’s capital city, which is also the seat of power, it is one of the most well-planned and built cities with necessary infrastructures like good road networks, hospitals, and an airport. But a major issue is the lack of an effective and efficient public transport system to move within and beyond the city.

Abuja, also known as ‘the big man’s city’, has a transport system that is majorly suitable for people who have cars and can easily move around.

Offices are located in areas like Wuse, Jani, Maitama, Central Business District; however, due to the high cost of living in Abuja town, especially in terms of accommodation, most people live on the outskirts going as far as Maje in Niger, Keffi, and Tafa in Kaduna, among others, commuting daily to their workplaces in town.

This has been aided by ride sharing with car owners heading to the same location for a token without the hassle of standing at bus stops or chasing after cabs.

However, this arrangement has suffered from the hike in petrol prices, as many car owners would rather take public transport spending N2,000 on the average rather than fuelling their cars with N10,000 daily.

Between January and mid-May, Abuja residents purchased petrol at a subsidised rate of N196 per litre; however, following President Bola Tinubu’s announcement of an end to subsidy on May 29, things took a drastic turn and many things changed.

By the first week of June, petrol was being sold at N540 in filling stations, which was an increase of 175 percent. While Nigerians were still adjusting to the hike, the pump price of the product was further increased to N615 per litre.

Consequently, many car owners decided to park their cars and opt for public transport, thus reducing the number of private cars available to convey people.

For example, Haruna Abubakar, a level-7 officer at a federal parastatal in the Central Business District spends at least N3,500 daily on transport moving from his house in Gauraka, Niger to his office.

He told BusinessDay that he would rather use public transport than fuel his car daily with N10,000. He added that although it is stressful, it is more economical for him, considering his N81,000 salary.

Car owners are further discouraged by the rise in traffic congestion in the FCT on the back of increased migration from other states.

Transport services like ride-hailing platforms also seem to be facing a downturn due to the rise in security concerns for both passengers and drivers. For example, in June, Obasi Okeke, a Bolt driver, was found dead with his throat slit by his passenger after completing a ride.

The good road network shortens the distance between the FCT and surrounding states or villages but the lack of an adequate transport system waters down the benefit of the available infrastructure, especially as a large number of commuters rely on public transportation to move around.

Every morning and evening, many residents would converge on any of the bus stops and junctions in different parts of Abuja, desperately waiting for vehicles to convey them to their destinations.

Another alternative would have been the Abuja rail mass transit, which connects the outskirts to the city through its various routes.

The light rail transit system was launched July 2018 and commenced operations a week later; however, passenger service was suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it was functioning, the rail system conveyed passengers from Abuja’s Central Business District to the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport as well as from Idu to Kubwa at affordable prices.

The lack of a good transport system to move around has implications for the lifestyle and economic activities in the city, especially if moving around is not convenient and requires long trekking.

Economic experts say that the transportation industry is a critical hub for economic growth, with improvements in infrastructure boosting commerce and accelerating global investment opportunities aimed at boosting the economy.

According to the World Bank, transport is fundamental to supporting economic growth, creating jobs and connecting people to essential services such as healthcare or education but in many developing countries, the benefits are not being realised.

“Ambitious investments in solutions such as high-quality public transport, well-connected cities, non-motorised transport options, and cleaner technologies can help achieve development progress. Expanding sustainable transport options, especially in low-income or vulnerable communities, is a powerful way for countries to bolster human development and social inclusion,” it said.

Ajayi does not leave Asokoro except if it is work-related or highly important.

“If I go out, I must ensure I leave the place early enough to navigate my way back home, if not I stand the risk of being stranded or being attacked because Asokoro can be dangerous at night,” she said.

Read also: Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, subsidise transportation for workers, students

Despite being a smaller town in land mass, Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, has a more efficient transport system with various options and alternatives available including an intra-system rail service, functional waterways and road transport that includes mass transit units like BRTs, commercial buses, also known as ‘Danfo’, tricycles, and motorcycles.

A success story of mass transit units is seen in a World Bank article titled ‘Urban transport: Lagos shows Africa the way forward (again)’, which states that Lagos transport system improved in 2008, when the first phase of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system was introduced.

It states that over 300 buses were plying Mile 12 and the satellite town of Ikorodu, reducing journey time by 15 minutes for over 200,000 daily commuters, and the number of people who can access Lagos’ largest market area within 45 minutes has grown by 65 percent.

“Public transport expenditure by poor households along the route in real terms has fallen by 31 percent, CO2 emissions on the corridor have declined by 8.5 percent even while overall traffic has increased 43 percent ; and road accidents have reduced significantly,” it added.