Lagos’ Traffic Congestion – Is There a Respite in View?

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The Federal Ministry of Works and Housing released a circular on March 1, 2020, on the partial closure of the independence bridge, linking Onikan to Bonny Camp. The closure will last for two months (between first of March and 2nd of May 2020). This is to enable the maintenance of the bridge. However, it will compound the build-up in traffic already caused by the Okada and tricycle ban.

In certain zones and streets of Lagos, the government placed a ban on the operation of commercial motorcycles and tricycles. This came into effect on February 1, 2020. The reason behind this was to reduce the rate of deaths and insecurity in the state. The ban on motorcycles and tricycles reduced the supply of transport vehicles for Lagos’ residents and many Lagosians had to trek long distances. This resulted in an artificial spike in transport fares in some parts of Lagos state. Meanwhile, people who had cars began using their vehicles more frequently which increased traffic congestion. The stress from more walking and increased traffic weighed on people’s health, thereby reducing productivity and output.

As Nigeria’s population increases, demand for road transportation by Nigerians continues to grow, particularly in cities. Lagos, the most populous state in the country, with an estimated population of 22 million people and counting, is the worst for traffic. A CNN report in 2019 indicated that Lagos is Africa’s fifth-largest economy and one of the most congested cities in the world. Approximately 40% of cars in Nigeria are registered in Lagos and the government’s failure to address the major transportation issues of the state puts the congestion burden squarely on Lagos residents. The loss of productivity hours, longer commutes to work, reduced leisure time, added fuel expenses, and higher vehicle emissions all negatively impact both the physical and mental health of Lagosians.

The establishment of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) in 2003, which led to the set-up of a bus rapid transit (BRT) system in 2008, was a government effort to reduce Lagos’ traffic congestion. The BRT system was launched with dedicated bus lanes, stations and terminals to facilitate quicker trips, and 220 buses running from 6 AM to 10 PM. Total capacity for the BRT system was over 200,000 passengers daily. In 2015, BRT operations were outsourced to the private sector and an additional 434 buses were injected into the system. However, only 250 of these new buses were operational.

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Unfortunately, the BRT system has done little to impact traffic congestion. While the BRT system now transports 350,000 people daily, this amounts to only 1.6% of Lagos’ total population. For those who still drive, or take private mass transit (e.g. commercial buses and motorcycle taxis), bad roads, poor availability of parking space, frequent vehicle breakdowns, narrow roads, and poor signage and traffic lights are added burdens to the congested roads. To achieve success in reducing traffic congestion in Lagos, policymakers must be willing to do things differently to shift Lagosians away from low-density road transportation.

Lessons from London

London, the UK’s capital, is one of the most populous cities in the European Union. With a population of over eight million, the city has its share of traffic congestion. In 2002, the city lost between £2 million and £4 million a week in terms of time lost due to congestion.6 In February 2003, the London Congestion Charging Scheme was launched to address traffic congestion by reducing the volume of vehicles. Drivers pay a daily charge of £8, except on weekends, to enter the congestion zone between 7 AM and 6 PM. Environment-friendly vehicles (such as electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles) are exempt from this charge. The policy initially covered a 22km2 area and was later doubled. By 2006, the congestion charging zone had reduced congestion in central London by 26%, and this reduction has been maintained.

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London’s congestion charge, however, succeeded because it has a fundamental difference from Lagos. It already had a robust and mature transport system to offer to drivers as an alternative and it could commit to improving that transport system with the funds it generated from the congestion charge.

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Lessons from Bogota

Bogota, the capital of Colombia with a population of over ten million, is no different when it comes to traffic congestion. In 1998, Bogotá had the worst traffic in Latin America. In response, Bogota’s mayor implemented both incentives and disincentives to address congestion. For an incentive, Bogota led the way for developing cities offering bus rapid transit systems. The system, TransMilenio, was launched in 2000. The private sector is in charge of TransMilenio’s operations and maintenance, while the government is responsible for the infrastructure and overseeing the system. The BRT system includes 1,300 large buses (more than 2 times the buses available in Lagos for a city with roughly half Lagos’ population), as well as smaller feeder buses that take care of the passengers in outlying areas.8 TransMilenio also runs free feeder buses from low-income communities at the outskirts of the city to the main TransMilenio stations, making public transport more accessible.

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As a disincentive, the Mayor doubled parking fees in the city and limited car access to the city centre to alternate days only with the last digit of the license plate dictating which days the car could enter the city centre. By 2010, 26% of commuters in Bogota chose the BRT as their main transit mode.9 Currently, the TransMilenio transports over 1.9 million passengers per day (nearly 20% of Bogota’s population), making it one of the highest-capacity BRT systems in the world.10 A 2012 study of the TransMilenio showed that traffic congestion was down 85% with the implementation of the BRT system.11 Although the traffic challenge in the city is not completely over, the transportation initiative was a success because infrastructure investments complemented the BRT system with the cooperation and collaboration of a variety of stakeholders.

The Way Forward

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Road-pricing schemes can be adopted in Lagos just like London. The state government can charge drivers to enter all lanes on major commuting roads destined for the state’s crowded centre. Through this, the number of vehicles on each major road during peak hours could be reduced so that the remaining vehicle could move at high speeds.

Expanding public transit capacity

The Lagos State government should anticipate this congestion charge with public transport enhancements that are meaningful in terms of their capacity, reliability and speed. The government could implement a large scale transit system in stages, allowing for the system to be used gradually as the different phases are launched. Only once the full system is available, with the requisite capacity, speed and reliability, should the congestion charge be enforced. To do so earlier would likely generate frustration and protest from Lagosians.

Strong Political will

Finally, the way forward must consider political will. The government decision should not be influenced by large groups of informal transport providers who stand to potentially lose out with reforms to the transportation system. The first efforts at the BRT implementation in Lagos took this into consideration, training commercial bus drivers as BRT bus drivers. This is just one example of a way Lagos can stay resolute with its objective while ensuring residents are not put out of work in the process. The Bogota transportation system succeeded as the government had a strong political will in implementing the BRT system. If Lagos is to be successful in truly changing the traffic constraints it too will need to remain focused.

Excerpts from FDC Bi-Monthly Update

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Lagos' Traffic Congestion - Is There a Respite in View? - Brand SpurLagos' Traffic Congestion - Is There a Respite in View? - Brand Spur

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