Wasted man-hours in traffic underscore untapped rail in Nigerian cities

The default way of describing movement around a place like Lagos is, stressful. Bad roads form a deadly partnership with traffic congestion to make commuting unpleasant, and there is the risk of frictions between vehicles by those who opt to drive themselves.

Similar scenes play out in other major cities like Port Harcourt, and the (mostly) outer areas of Abuja. Vehicle based transportation remains the dominant means of moving people within cities, and rail, as being deployed in recent times, has been more for inter-city and interstate. However, more people move within cities and require the mass transit, as much as and possibly more than the inter-city routes.

In other climes where rail is used for effective passenger traffic, commuting is made a lot easier as individuals spend more hours being productive at work, rather than stuck in traffic gridlocks.

Akinwumi Ambode, governor of Lagos state while being represented by Tunji Bello, Secretary to LASG at the sixth annual lecture of the Federal Road Safety Corps in 2016, was said to have remarked that the state loses N42 billion annually to traffic congestion.

However, a study put the loss due to traffic in Lagos at N4 trillion annually. Franca Ovadje, founder and executive director, Danne Institute, which conducted the study along with the Financial Derivatives Company, gave the break down in an interview, to include ₦79,000 loss for those who use public transport, and if one owned a car, it costs extra ₦133,000 every year to maintain because of traffic.

The study had also found out that micro businesses lose between ₦60,000 and ₦500,000 yearly, depending on how many employees they have. Small businesses lose between ₦460,000 and ₦2.94 million monthly, to traffic congestion. Medium-sized businesses lose between ₦3 million to ₦14.94 million monthly.

“Per year, this state loses about ₦4 trillion to traffic. Putting a financial and economic cost to this has helped a great deal,” Ovadje said.

While she highlighted the need to get people off danfos, off private vehicles, into mass transit trains and ferries, the train alternative remains largely undeveloped.

Read also: Nigeria’s transportation conundrum and commendation to the transport minister

Even though Lagos has tried to have rail mass transit system since 1985, when a first effort was truncated by Muhammadu Buhari, then as military head of state, the revived plan has since 2008 struggled to see trains whistling across the metropolis.

Having a functional rail system within the city would however, kill multiple proverbial birds with one stone. Traffic, mental and physical stress, unpredictable fares, health spends, environmental pollution, security threats from traffic congestions, strains on roads that get them damaged faster are just some of the innumerable benefits.

The impact of traffic congestion is palpable to anyone witnessing delay on Lagos roadways. The World Bank in 2009 estimated that 8 million people travel to work via public transportation each day on the 9,100 roads and expressways available in Lagos.

The Economic Intelligence Unit of the Lagos State Ministry of Economic Planning & Budget, noted in 2013 that, with more than 1 million registered vehicles as at 2011, there are potentially more than one million trips made during the peak travel periods of the day; this is much more during seasonal festivities such as Easter and Christmas when there is an influx from other parts of the country.

Data obtained exclusively by BusinessDay from the Lagos state Motor Vehicle Administration Agency showed that 319,550 new car registrations were done in Lagos last year, a 5.8 percent increment over 300,903 cars registered in 2019. Car registrations had increased every year from 196,257 documented in 2016. An estimated two million vehicles ply the state’s dilapidated roads and adding to the stress commuters are subjected to.

The effects of road traffic congestion are visible on the economy, infrastructures, environment and health. The actual economic impacts of traffic congestion can differ from one area to other, depending on its economic profile and business location pattern.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, in its publication on Transport Statistics, rail transport is usually the most suitable mode of transportation for heavy traffic flows when speed is also an advantage because of the lower cost per person per load as the train load increases. Nigeria’s single-narrow-gauge railway line constructed in the colonial period was for many years the only mode of freight movement between the northern and southern parts of the country. In Nigeria, rail transport accounts less than a half per cent to the gross domestic products of the transport sector.

Although rail has always contributed a tiny proportion of value-added in transportation, its share of value-added continues to decline because road transport (freight and passenger) has virtually taken over all the traffic previously conveyed by rail. The relegated status of the Nigerian Railways is a classic illustration of a transportation policy, which has sidelined an important and cheap means of transport to foster the growth of privately-owned long haulage transport services. This policy has engendered the following:

(i) It has made the Nigerian Railway Corporation [NRC] a lame duck with total reliance on the Government for subvention.

(ii) A disorganised, unregulated private sector-owned road transport system providing freight and passenger services.

The effects of these are: (i) traffic congestion on urban roads. (ii) increasing rate of fatal road accidents emanating from bad roads, poorly-maintained vehicles and careless driving. (iii) worsening environmental pollution.

The weakened rail transport system would have been a cheap and efficient means of passenger traffic across the country, saving commuters time and money lost on the poor road networks.

As experts have noted, Nigeria’s rail network remains abysmal and needs a radical overhaul for it to match the needs of a modern day Nigeria. The roads can no longer sustain the population growth and competing requirements for individuals and industry. With a revamped rail system, the nightmares of road transportation will be significantly eliminated, if not completely.

“The citizens and businesses have to keep pressurizing the government. By the way, it’s not a Lagos problem only although we studied Lagos,” Ovadje said.