• Friday, March 01, 2024
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BusinessDay

Blue Line rail stagnates as Lagosians trek

How short term impact of Lagos Blue Rail Line will drive real estate demand

“I don’t think it’s worth talking about anymore after several failed promises to flag off the commercial operations of the Lagos Blue Line rail line.

The rail system should ordinarily be a relief to millions of residents of Lagos who have resorted to trekking long distances to their destinations in the face of spiralling transportation fares – a major fallout of the recent removal of subsidy on petrol, which has pushed the pump price of the product to over N600 per litre. I think I am already losing faith in their promised rail system.”

This was how Adebayo Ajuba, a Lagos-based real estate agent, reacted, when BusinessDay engaged him at Orile-Iganmu, on his expectations from the Blue Line rail system, six months after former President Muhammadu Buhari was invited by the Lagos State government to commission the project on January 24, 2023.

Ajuba’s sentiments were shared by another resident who identified himself simply as Shittu. He said: “Many seem to have moved on with their lives after several failed promises by the state government to open the rail system to public use.

Read also: Rental, capital values seen growing on Lagos Blue Line Rail

“It seems like the people are being taken for a fool. I remember when the state governor told Lagosians that the rail line would be ready by the last quarter of 2022. This was later shifted to the first quarter of 2023.

When President Buhari commissioned it in January, we thought that was it. But after that commissioning, we started hearing that they were doing test-running. From test-running, we have moved from the first quarter of the year to the second quarter, and now in the third quarter, still nobody can say exactly when the rail line would start commercial operations.

“Imagine the level of relief it would be for commuters on the CMS-National Theatre-Orile-Mile 2 corridor at this time that transportation fares have skyrocketed because of the petrol subsidy removal, but here we are, still waiting,” Shittu lamented.

“How do you explain waiting for more than a decade for a metro rail system that should be a game-changer in public transportation in a state that lies prostrate to congestion? And after bringing the president to commission and showcase to the world, its rail is still not ready for public use months after. Why the commissioning if the project wasn’t ready? Why raise people’s hope only to dash it afterwards?” he wondered.

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 governorship election in Lagos, reacting yesterday on the Blue Line rail delay, said: “I have always wondered if they ever had intentions for the public to use the Blue Rail or it was an election gimmick.

Today with the difficulty people are having moving around, the Blue Line rail would have relieved significantly the suffering of the people.”

In May this year, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu told BusinessDay that the rail line would begin commercial operations in June (last month) as the state government was perfecting arrangement for an 18-megawatt independent power source to run it.

However, Abimbola Akinajo, managing director of Lagos Metropolitan Transport Authority (LAMATA), in a chat with BusinessDay yesterday, said electrical fittings were being perfected on the rail line and that the commercial flag-off would take place in the last week of August 2023.

“We’re currently ensuring that electrical systems are in order. The rail line has moved about 150,000 people so far, but commercial flag-off of operations will be in the last week of August,” Akinajo, whose agency supervises the operations of the Blue Line rail, said.

She was corroborated by Gboyega Akosile, chief press secretary to Governor Sanwo-Olu, who in a telephone chat with BusinessDay, said: “The Blue Line rail is ready. What is being done now is tidying up the loose ends. We’re not happy it has taken this long, but in one month’s time, commercial operations will begin.”

BusinessDay gathered that besides the independent power plant, the state government has also been talking with the Eko Electricity Distribution Company for a backup power source.

“There will be three-level power sources: the independent power plant, Eko Distribution and an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) that comes with each of the cars,” a government source said.

“Each car is designed with a battery and UPS that takes over automatically. This will ensure uninterrupted service to Lagosians when full commercial operations begin,” the source added.

President Buhari inaugurated the first phase – 13km (Marina to Mile 2) of the 27km (Marina-Okomaiko) Blue Line rail system on January 24, 2023. The Blue Line is one of the six light rails under the Lagos Rail Mass Transportation System designed by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority.

Read also: Journey of memories – A ride on the Lagos Blue Line

However, since the commissioning, the rail is yet to open to the general public as the state government is still working to perfect the system. It is projected to lift at least 250,000 daily and will significantly reduce travel time on the Mile 2-Marina corridor.

With an estimated population of 24 million population in 2023, based on the latest revision of the United Nations World Urbanisation Prospects, analysts believe that Lagos had recorded enormous losses in the last 38 years owing to the lack of a rail mass transit system, a common feature in other megacities like Johannesburg in South Africa and Cairo in Egypt.

According to a recent report by Danne Institute for Research, a Lagos-based research institution, the state loses about N4 trillion annually as a result of traffic congestion. The amount, the report added, is derived from the culmination of estimated 14.12 million hours lost by Lagosians in commuting to work daily.

The report, titled ‘Connectivity and Productivity Report’, said the amount was derived from the culmination of estimated 14.12 million hours lost by Lagosians while commuting to work every day.

Franca Ovadje, founder/executive director at Danne Institute for Research, during a presentation of the report in 2021, lamented that the growth of Lagos had not resulted in increased productivity due to the challenge of connectivity.

“We found that the cost to individuals of traffic congestion is N133,978.68 per annum for those who own their vehicles and N79,039.40 each year for those who use public transport. The total loss to Lagos is estimated at 14.12 million hours per day or N3,834,340,158,870 per annum,” Ovadje said.

Muda Yusuf, a former director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in an interview with BusinesDay in 2020 that Lagos was bleeding from poor productivity and low turnaround time as a result of traffic congestion.

“Having tonnes of buses won’t solve any problem if they end up stuck in traffic,” he said. “There is no city as big as Lagos that doesn’t have a functional intra-city rail system. If you are talking about mass transit, the most effective means is rail. It helps productivity. And you know mobility has a way of increasing output because the speed of transactions is much higher. You need effective transport systems to facilitate those things so that they can contribute to growth.”

An average worker in Lagos spends the equivalent of 75 percent of a week’s total working hours commuting, according to a research finding by JCDecaux Grace Lake Nigeria.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, at the inauguration in January, described the Blue Line Rail as a milestone in the development of the Lagos rail mass transit and a culmination of several impactful reforms in the state’s transport ecosystem, starting from 1999 when Bola Tinubu came in as governor.