Leaping Before Looking

Passengers waiting to take a ride in the new buses
Passengers waiting to take a ride in the new buses

The Federal Capital Territory Administration’s decision to ban mini buses from operating within Abuja metropolis without adequate arrangements for their replacement creates hardship for commuters

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Aug. 12, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

WHEN the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, placed a ban on mini buses operating in Abuja metropolis, on June 3, that decision elicited mixed reactions. While some well-heeled members of the public lauded the decision because it would put an end to the nuisance caused by mini buses on the road, low income earners in Nyanya, Maraba and other parts of the capital city, where the buses were popular, complained that the development would make it difficult for them to connect with other parts of the city. To assuage their fears, the FCTA announced the introduction of a Mass Transit Scheme that would not only make transportation around the metropolis easier but would also reduce the regular gridlock caused by mini buses on the roads.

Under the scheme, the FCTA granted operating licences to five operators namely Shaanxi Auto Limited, ATCS Limited, City-Cab Limited, Print Field Enterprises Limited and Corporate Drivers Nigeria Limited. These operators were expected to provide high capacity buses that would ply designated routes within the Abuja metropolis.

The old mini buses
The old mini buses

Speaking on the new transport scheme, Bala Mohammed, FCT minister, assured that the ban on mini buses was not designed to cause hardship for commuters but to solve the problem of transportation in the city. He also said the administration had licensed some cab operators with security gadgets for monitoring and evaluation to ply routes where the high capacity buses would not be available.  Mohammed further disclosed that the FCTA has over 700 buses for the scheme.  “We have over 700 high capacity buses in the FCT. The Abuja Urban Mass Transit Company has about 300, the NURTW has about 200, and other licensed operators have about 200.”

Good as the new transport policy appeared, it has not lived up to expectation. Rather than solve the problems of transportation in the city, it has created more and made life harder for residents. At the terminals in various parts of the city, what obtains contradicts Mohammed’s claims that there are over 700 buses under the scheme. The unavailability of buses means passengers have to spend appreciable hours on queues sometimes under the scorching sun or rain before getting a bus to their destinations.

At the Nyanya terminal, Christopher Adah, a passenger, spent almost an hour waiting to board a bus to Area 10 in Central Abuja. “I have been waiting here for almost one hour. This new arrangement is creating lots of problems. We cannot meet our appointments because the buses don’t come on time. The government has to do something fast”.

For residents in Gwarimpa and other parts of Abuja, it is the same song of lamenmtations. The buses are not enough and like residents in Nyanya, passengers spend hours on long queues to board buses. Blessing Akume, a civil servant, who lives in Gwarimpa and works in Wuse  said the ban on mini buses has made her journey to work difficult. “I don’t see any sense in banning mini buses without providing enough buses to replace them. Here in Gwarimpa, there are no buses at all and people are finding it difficult to cope with the situation.

Even though there are licensed taxi cabs operating in areas where the high capacity buses are not available, but Realnews investigations and comments from passengers reveal that the fares charged by the cab drivers are a bit too expensive. For instance, Akume told Realnews that a drop from Gwarimpa to Wuse costs between N800 to N1000.

Stephen Idelor, a businessman who lives in Nyanya says no serious businessman will patronise the licensed cabs because they are very expensive. “The cabs are expensive and I believe no serious businessman will spend all his profit on transportation. I appreciate what the government is trying to do in the transport sector, but banning those mini buses was definitely not the right thing to do. They should have left them until they have enough buses to replace them. What they have done now is to create more problems instead of solving the existing ones”.

Long queues at terminals
Long queues at terminals

Aside from the shortage of buses to cater for the burgeoning population of the city and the high fares charged by cab drivers, there have also been complaints about the conditions of the terminals. Unlike what obtains in other cities where there are shades and seats for passengers, there is no such thing in any of the terminals in Abuja. Passengers waiting to board the buses are at the mercy of the weather which is sometimes unpleasant.

Isiaka Ndah, a passenger in Kubwa, told Realnews how passengers scramble for shelter when it rains. He said because there is no shelter, passengers have to run into shops and houses around to avoid being drenched.  “You need to see how people run around anytime it rains in this park. Because there is no place to hide, people run into shops and houses around. The government just brought buses here without making provision for where they will sit while waiting for the buses.”

The most telling sign that the new transport scheme has not lived up to expectation is the constant gridlock on many routes in the city. Contrary to the suggestions that the high capacity buses would decongest the roads, passengers and other road users still spend long hours in traffic before getting to their destinations.

According to Tunde Aremu, Policy and Campaign Manager of Actionaid Nigeria, the new transport policy was not well thought out and that is why it has created more problems for Abuja residents.  According to him, the traffic situation has worsened because people with old cars now use them on the road because they are not comfortable with going to the bus terminals and spending long hours.  “What is responsible for this is that there are now more people bringing out their private vehicles- people who initially had been using commercial buses. These days you see all these old Subaru, Datsun and 504 on the road. The policy is causing traffic congestion everywhere,” he said.

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