The Bus Rapid Transit Scheme introduced by Babatunde Fashola administration in Lagos state is declining steeply as a result of poor management, lack of maintenance culture and staff indiscipline
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Jul. 8, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
WHEN the Bus Rapid Transit, BRT, was introduced by the Lagos state government six years ago, it was lauded by all and sundry as a good initiative. Many residents saw the new scheme as one that would not only phase out the popular molue buses from Lagos roads but also as a permanent solution to the problems of public transportation in the metropolis. In the early days of the BRT, residents heading to various parts of the state would gladly wait in queues to enjoy a comfortable ride in brand new blue and red buses which also had dedicated lanes on the road.
But that was how far the scheme got to before it started to decline. Today, the glittering BRT buses have become a shadow of what they used to be and a vivid reminder of the rickety molue buses. With a terminal full of damaged and broken-down buses resulting in long queues at parks and more passengers standing than those sitting on moving buses, it is obvious that the scheme has run into a stormy weather.
Taiwo Akinpelu, a business man on Broad Street, Lagos, is a regular passenger on the BRT buses. He takes the bus every morning from the Dopemu terminal to TBS. When that route was added to the BRT list, Akinpelu and other passengers in that axis were sure of getting to their destinations in good time because there were many buses and short queues. But today, he spends over an hour on the queue and gets to work late. Akinpelu said the scheme which started as a good initiative, has gone bad because of a poor maintenance culture in Nigeria. He added that the scheme had deviated from the original plan of decongesting the roads, making people to travel faster and at a lower fare.
“We all felt very happy when the Lagos state government started the bus service because it was a very good idea. It is still a good thing but the Nigerian spirit of poor maintenance has crept in. As you can see, most of the buses are not working and many of us have been on this queue for over an hour. I think it is high time the Lagos state government reviewed this scheme in order to make it better and also serve the people better.”
Titi Molehin, another passenger on the same route, said the BRT buses may become worse than the molue buses they replaced if attention is not paid to reviving the scheme. “If things continue like this, these buses will become like the molues they replaced. The operators must find a way to get new buses and fix the old ones.”
The constant breakdown of the BRT buses on major roads is also a cause of worry for many customers. When this happens, passengers have to either wait for the drivers to fix the bus or call the office to arrange for another bus. Charity Ojo, said she has had many experiences of the BRT buses breaking down on the road. “These buses are becoming old and need to be replaced, that is why they break down every day. The one I boarded last week broke down on the road and we had to wait for close to 45 minutes for the management to send another one from the office.”
Other than the issues raised by Akinpelu, Molehin and other customers, Realnews investigations confirm that there are many more problems besetting the BRT bus scheme. There are complaints about the shenanigans of the ticketing officers and the recklessness of the drivers.
In many terminals, the ticketing officers are accused of selectively selling tickets to passengers whenever there are long queues. When the scheme started passengers were not allowed to stand. But these days the ticketing officers sell tickets to desperate passengers willing to stand in the bus. A passenger who gave his name as Tunde said the ticketing officers sell their own “personal” tickets to such passengers. “There is no record of those tickets. It is the ticketing officers who sell them on their own. Passengers are not supposed to stand in the bus, but because the officers want to make money, they sell tickets to people.”
There have also been complaints about the BRT inspectors who have become jaded and no longer doing their job diligently. In the early days of the scheme, officials used to join the bus midway to the journey to verify passenger tickets but they no longer do that now. The drivers, are unruly, careless and inconsiderate of other road users. They exceed speed limits, intimidate smaller vehicles and are sometimes involved in road accidents. There have even been speculations that many of the BRT drivers are former molue drivers who were recruited without proper training.
Chikeluo Ndum, whose car was recently damaged by a BRT bus driver on the Lagos Abeokuta expressway, said “many BRT drivers are careless and should not be allowed to drive on the highways.”
Following series of complaints from customers and other road users, efforts are being made to ensure that BRT drivers and workers are well trained to behave properly. According to Nonye Owumere, public relations officer at the BRT office, Ojota, the organisation is also taking strict disciplinary actions against unruly workers. “We train and re-train them. Everyone without exception is always undergoing training. The company spends millions in training but you know that human beings are complex. However, defaulters face different kinds of punishments. Some have their salaries either cut or are sent on suspension, because we are here to satisfy the customers.”
Owumere, who also admitted that the scheme is plagued by some challenges, said “the organisation is working hard to fix the challenges and deliver better services.” She also called on customers to be patient with the organisation “We have a maintenance crew that always takes care of our buses. One thing commuters should know is that, there are many challenges in the transport business. Even car owners will tell you that their vehicles break down occasionally. Most times, some of the parts are hard to source. It takes about one month to get some spare parts. But Lagosians do not want to see such things happen. One thing we are assuring our customers is that we will always carry them along. We started with 100 buses and now there are 220 of them.”
Despite these challenges, there are those who still prefer to patronise the BRT buses. To such the people, the lower fares and the assurance that the buses will come no matter how long it takes, are what makes the BRT attractive. Tajudeen Bamidele is one of such customers. He said even though the scheme is buffeted by many problems, it has more advantages than the regular commercial buses on Lagos roads. “I prefer BRT buses for my journey. I agree that they have many problems now but these are problems that will be fixed very soon. The good thing about the sBRT is that you are sure the buses will come no matter how long and they are cheaper compared to commercial regular buses.”