By Jessica Asinugo
With an estimated 12 million residents, Lagos is poised to become Africa’s most populous city by 2015. Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria, home to some of country’s most important ports and trade zones.
Over the years, despite the city’s massive population growth and resulting need for urban planning and transportation-related investment, poor leadership led to a dilapidated transportation network that was severely ill-equipped to support its population. Up until the early 2000’s, Lagos roads were dominated by millions of private passenger cars, danfo’s (large buses), molue’s (small buses), car taxi’s, and okada’s (dare-devil motorcycle taxis). The incredibly high volume of vehicles on the road each day, coupled with the poor vehicle-quality and limited road network, led to a transportation system that on a good day, could be described as crippled, and on a bad day, as paralyzed. I can personally remember days when it took us up to 3 hours to get to a destination that was merely 30 miles away – and one can only imagine the degree of air pollution that loomed in the city. One segment of the society did however benefit from the congested traffic situation – the street merchants. Each day, thousands sellers both young and old, would take advantage of the stand-still traffic, selling door-to-door anything from candy bars, to stereo systems, to puppies. Indeed, to cut it as a Lagos-driver one had to maintain the right balance of aggression and quick reflexes – and with no available emergency medical services in case of any accidents, you made your way through the city each day on a wish and a prayer.
Fortunately, the 2000’s brought with it strong leadership with a strategy to focus on transportation infrastructure development as a key lever to drive overall economic development in the city. Some of the key projects and policies implemented by states leadership include:
- Massive road expansion
- Implementation of Lagos Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT)
- Commission of Lagos Lite Rail
- Ban of non-roadworthy public transportation vehicles
- Replacement of okada’s with keke napep’s (three wheeled vehicles)
These solutions have tremendously improved the transportation situation; however, significant challenges remain. Similar to the case in Bogota, some of these solutions were only partially implemented, resulting in a system that is still inefficient. Okada’s, molue’s and danfo’s can still be found on the streets, because the BRT and keke napep’s could not fully absorb the total ridership demand. Although many roads have been expanded, adequate investment has not been made to develop alternate routes, such as new roads and overhead bridges. And given the country’s paradoxical position of suffering from chronic fuel shortages despite being one of the world’s top oil producers, any policies to that would promote a fuel tax increase as a lever to curb the number of vehicles on the road would be met with massive protests.
It is important to note that the benefits of successful implementation of transportation projects in any developing country goes beyond improving travel-time savings; it is the backbone that will facilitate economic development, and it serves as a strong signal to the international community that the country is a place where public private partnerships can be successful.