The Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Dr. Dayo Mobereola, speaks on his driving regime and founding the state Bus Rapid Transit
how did your position as Managing Director of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority prepare you for your job as commissioner?
Having spent 14 years in LAMATA and, before that, having studied transportation and worked in various international organisations (in) the UK, the US, Europe and everywhere, I think, God willing, I have the knowledge, experience and wherewithal to sit in this chair and make a positive impact.
What is responsible for the poor maintenance and customer service of the Bus Rapid Transit, created under your leadership at LAMATA?
The first (fleet of) the BRT (buses) that we initiated in Lagos was in 2008. Before then, most of the organised private sector did not want to get involved in transport operations in Lagos, even Nigeria, because they saw it as a ‘down there’ business. They were not interested in that kind of business. A lot of them preferred the oil sector, banking and the like. So, we advertised; we approached some entrepreneurs and they said, ‘No, we are not interested in transport in Lagos.’
What we then did was to work with existing operators through the National Union of Road Transport Workers and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria to put together a very good business plan. We took them around the world to London, Brazil, Colombia, where there are very good BRT systems. And by the time they all came back, they said they were interested, they wanted to up their market (share) and that this was the best type of bus system that we should be running and operating in Lagos. So, we signed up with NURTW because they were the first to come forth and we operated a five-year franchise from Mile 12 to CMS. One of the plans was that they would repay the cost of the buses in three years, but in 18 months, they had fully paid the bank. That shows you the profitability of the whole scheme and the transport sector as a whole.
Why then did the quality of service drop?
When these people saw huge returns, instead of putting money into maintenance, re-fleeting and ensuring that everything that supports the success and the continuity of the system should continue, they didn’t do that; they were just spending money because we found out that people had got used to the BRT—a classic example is that if you go to Ojota or Fadeyi, you would see people queueing, waiting to take the BRT, rather than taking danfo. Doctors and lawyers had started leaving their cars at home and using the BRT when we first started. Everything was going on well and that is where we wanted it to go. But there is no way you can use equipment and not maintain it. If you are not maintaining it, it will depreciate and become unreliable.
We kept talking to the NURTW over a period of time but they just would not listen. That went on for a while. But the good side of that was that a lot of the organised private sector that was not interested in transportation initially started seeing a good scheme. They’ve now seen the profitability and a lot of them are showing interest. We kept telling the NURTW, ‘Look, if you don’t do this thing, we will give it to the people that are now interested.’ But nothing eventually happened.
Eventually, we had to close that franchise to the NURTW when it got to a point that it was not servicing the people as much as before. The services reduced drastically from 220 buses to 68 buses, and yet, there were a lot of people (customers) that wanted to take buses. So, we stopped them. Before we stopped them though, we had engaged with others in the private sector who have now bought almost 430 buses with air conditioning this time around and we had built (the bus corridor) to Ikorodu at that time. Now, if you go to their depot in Majidun, you will see foreigners working there, maintaining these buses on daily, weekly and monthly bases.
How do danfo (commercial buses) and okada (commercial motorcycles) factor into the long-term development plans for the state?
In most cities of the world, you have the formal and informal transport systems. In India, you have the rail, you have the buses, but you still have the danfo and all of that. In all of Latin America, you have the informal system—informal buses and all of that. What we are trying to do is not to totally eradicate the informal system because they serve a purpose. We can’t do away with it. However, what we have been working on for the past one and a half to two years is to ensure that this informal system is safe for the people of Lagos and is such that it would provide the services that they are actually intended for and not be a disservice.
Every day, we see the danfo on the road, and the way these people drive, you can say they are unreliable and unsafe to themselves. But they endanger the lives of other road users. We are asking them to come up with a bigger, 30-capacity bus. We have about 4,800 designated bus stops in Lagos now; these buses will drop off and pick up passengers there. They won’t pick up passengers on the road. They won’t stop at the roundabout. They won’t stop on the bridge. They won’t stop in the middle of the road to pick up passengers. That means we are going to train them from the outset.
Will these changes be feasible in suburban parts of the state?
When that happens, it will deal with all the rural areas. Then you will find out that Keke Marwa (tricycles) and okada would economically disappear because people would not use them anymore. Okada is actually more expensive and it is more dangerous. But people are thinking ‘I need to get from A to B’ and therefore they are jumping on it. But the cost of transportation is extremely high. Once we have this informal system—we call it a feeder service—merging together with the formal system, they will feed the formal system and go to the rural areas and pick up passengers and bring them into the main throng and then those ones will get into the 48-seater bus, the rail or water transport.
The other area that we are also trying to capture them with the use of electronic card systems, so that the card can be used on the rail, water transport, buses and these informal system as well. You find out that these informal operators are losing a lot of money. The drivers and the conductors are the ones making the money. We are going to have trackers on them, so we can tell where all the public transport (vehicles) are in Lagos. We are even going to change the colour so that when you see a public vehicle, be it rail, water transport, taxi, formal or informal bus, they all have one colour.
Do you have a colour in mind?
Yes, there is a colour in mind but it is not yet time to reveal it.
When is this expected to be launched?
I think, as of the last (information) that came to me, we are looking at January of next year. Again, speaking of these informal buses, maybe I shouldn’t call them informal, because they are formal in the sense that they are going to be stopping at the bus stops and they are going to have A/Cs as well. They are going to have drivers and conductors that are wearing uniforms with their names (on tags); they are going to be tested.
How has public service changed your perspective as a motorist?
I’ve always said that transportation is a noble profession. It is a profession that affects everybody’s life every day — morning, afternoon and evening. I enjoy the fact that I created BRT; I enjoy the fact that I initiated the blue line and came up with the transport masterplan for Lagos. I was able to do all of that within my own concept of doing things alone.
But here, I am now involved in enforcement, in creating laws that will make things happen and some of the things you ask yourself is, ‘How do we better the enforcement strategy to ensure that all of these things are effective?’ Maybe in the past, while driving, I would be thinking of something else. But now, when I am driving, I am looking at everything on the road. Everything on the road concerns me. I now have 22 million clients, unlike when I was at LAMATA.
What do you listen to when you drive?
I listen to traffic radio all the time—morning, afternoon and night — unless I just want to take a backseat; I listen to gospel music and a bit of jazz. But mainly, it is traffic radio to know where the traffic is happening and I like the way people are responding and contributing because we have said that good flow of traffic is not the responsibility of one person; it is not the responsibility of one agency. It is the responsibility of all and that is all it takes.
Source: THE PUNCH