In the words of Gustavo Petro, Economist, former Mayor of Bogota, and the current president of Columbia – “A developed country isn’t a place where the poor have cars, it’s where the rich use public transport”. The quote brought to my mind an old picture of Tony Blair leaving the Darlington train station on his way back to London, after spending some time at his Sedgefield home in January 2002. Tony was then the UK Prime Minister! Should I add, in that picture, he was even carrying his own hand luggage, a red travel bag.
According to Transport for London (TfL), the operator of the London Underground, the tube as popularly called handles up to five million passenger journeys a day! Why should an information like this be important to a citizen or government of a city like Lagos, a megacity, which prides itself as the Centre of Excellence?
It is because it inspires a compelling vision for a rail system, or in the case of Lagos State Government which has already set its hands on the plough for a rail system, it keeps the fire of passion burning, not just to envision moving millions of Lagosians by rail but to translate the vision to reality in the transport space of Lagos State.
For a brief background, the London Underground is the first rapid transit system in the world and commenced operations in 1863. It has 11 lines and handles close to 50% of commuter traffic in London.
This write-up is not about the London Underground, but about our own Lagos Rail Mass Transit system, and a good starting point for this discussion would be 1983, when the idea of a metro rail line was initiated by the then Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) government in Lagos led by the late Alhaji Lateef Jakande, who opened our eyes to the possibilities of what a government can do in four years.
But that dream was truncated. It was this same dream that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu rebirthed, rejigged, and updated within the context of his own idea of a Lagos masterplan, and then set it on a new course under the Strategic Transit Master Plan (STMP).
The STMP includes the rail system comprising of one monorail and six lines – the Blue Line from Okokomaiko to Marina, Red line from Agbado to Marina, Green line from Marina to Lagos Free Trade Zone (LFTZ), Purple line from the Redemption Camp, Mowe to LASU, Orange line from Ikeja to Agbowa, and the Yellow line from Ota to National Theatre, The Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) is the anchor agency for the Lagos Rail Project.
In furtherance of this dream, the current government in Lagos State upon assumption of duties in 2019 had presented to us a 6-pillar acronym – THEMES, which would drive the focus of the government in delivering the dividends of democracy to the Lagosians.
The first letter, T, in the acronym stands for Traffic Management and Transportation. This must have been informed by the reality of the impact of traffic and transportation challenges on the health of the state in all ramifications. So, why is a rail system a sine qua non for a Lagos State?
First, the clockwork nature of the operations of rail systems presents repetitiveness and predictability. The simple fact that the train arrives, loads, and departs on schedule makes the trips planning a delight, and this enhances a more dispersed population distribution as more people can stay around those parts of town that are connected by rail and travel to work in the business districts and industrial layouts.
This has an effect of moderating housing crisis by facilitating the development of private and public housing schemes along and around the many nodes of the rail infrastructure. A good example is the United States, where people live in New Jersey with a lower cost of living, and work in New York, a very busy city with a much higher cost of living. One of the most critical infrastructures that unlocked that possibility for the New Jersey-New York axis was the efficient rail system.
Coming home to the Lagos rail, according to reports, each train comprises four coaches and each coach can take up to 250 passengers, making a total of 1000 passengers on a single full load trip. In comparison, at an average of 14 passengers a trip, it will require 71 “Danfo” buses to perform the same feat.
Imagine the impact of 71 smoky and rickety Danfos, vis-a-vis one comfortable electric train, on the health of the environment and the people! Further to the environmental impact is the effect on traffic congestion.
A single train can take 71 Danfo buses off the road, this reduces the traffic congestion and make road trips for the citizens smoother and faster. Even the Danfos can make more trips when the congestion is lowered.
One of the least spoken about consequences of traffic congestions is the health implication. Like some healthcare voices have rightly captured it, “if God had wanted us to just be sitting in one position, then he wouldn’t have given us 206 bones each”!
But that is what long hours in traffic forces us to do, sit in one position for hours. For commuters, it is even worse, because not only do they have to sit for hours, but they do it in largely very uncomfortable positions.
From time to time, the roads lock up totally in Lagos, and people spend 10 hours in Lagos traffic for journeys that would have taken an hour on an easy Sunday morning. Prolonged sitting in one position is probably worse than a combination of smoking, drinking, and eating fatty foods.
When you are in your workplace or home, most people at least, you have the liberty to get up and walk to the next desk or the restroom, but where do you walk to in a Lagos Danfo?
The deployment of the rail infrastructure will temper the impact of long hours of sitting in traffic, and by extension the health implications of this forced habit imposed on hundreds of thousands of Lagos commuters. The spillover effect will be on private car owners who will enjoy less congestion and less hours of sitting in traffic.
What about the manhours lost on daily basis to traffic congestion? This has productivity implications, and by extension affects economic activities and growth. Lagosians on annual basis spend a significant amount of what should have been productive hours in traffic congestions, thus impeding the ease of doing business and constraining avoidably its GDP growth, and livability index.
Imagine being able to deploy the blueline to save 450,000 commuters from that madness? What if that scales up to 1,500,000 with Red and Blue Lines?
We can begin to peek into the future, to see the possibilities that the eventual completion of the six lines plus one monorail in the strategic plan can potentially deliver to the citizens of Lagos! If the London Underground can do 5million commuters a day, who says we cannot shoot for 3 million, or maybe get more audacious over time and shoot for 5 million, and even more!
By implementing the rail system, it is possible to half today’s average of 3 hours spent in traffic by Lagosians, and plough back up to 2 billion productive hours annually into the Lagos economy.
Generally, rail systems help to reduce the aggregate transportation cost in a system by virtue of the greater capacity, efficiency, and the better speed that is associated with modern trains. When people do one-hour journeys in two, the fuel cost doubles, so does the wear and tear on the vehicles.
Time is lost, manhours lost, and there is cost to health. Introducing the rail into the multimodal mix has inter alia the effect of easing traffic pressure on the roads and by extension all the cost elements that are associated with congestion.
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I have had colleagues who as a matter of daily existence, leave the office for between 5 and 6pm, didn’t get home before 11pm, and had to be back on the road by 4am the next morning. I know people who have had to pack out of their owned houses to go rent apartments due to the health effects of not getting enough sleep by virtue of the traffic congestion problems. In some instances, children are even caught up in the complexities of where the family had to live, where the parents work and where the child schools.
There have been reports of children becoming sickly due to the stress of getting around, or sleeping through the morning classes because the hours spent getting around wouldn’t leave them enough to sleep! If there is one infrastructure intervention, that could unlock a solution to the foregoing web of problems, it would be a rail system.
There is the employment creation, the technology deployment which has benefits across the value chain from the providers of the technology to the financial services providers, governments, and other stakeholders. Some have even audaciously alluded to the possibility that an extensive rail system could eventually help manage the “agbero” menace in Lagos.
Lagos citizens cannot wait for the rail infrastructure to go commercial. The wow factor of the first foot at the door, with the first phase of the blue line, might just be that catalyst that will expedite the delivery of the other lines within the Strategic Transit Master Plan (STMP). It has been long coming, I hear the sound of the abundance of rail, and I lend my voice in resonance to say – let there be rail!
Olojede is a public policy analyst and writes from Lagos