25th July, 2011
Every democratically elected government is accountable to the people, to whom it owes its existence. These people, therefore, need to be consistently told how public funds are being spent and that the mandate given, are being utilized. This is why the Fashola administration renders periodic account of its stewardship to the people every 100 days. The administration has never derided itself of having the monopoly of knowledge with regards to finding the right solutions to the myriad of challenges confronting the state. It has therefore consistently thrown its doors open to divergent opinions and views from various sources.
The administration has been convening stakeholdersâ€™ meetings on various issues ranging from the Coroners Law, to the Inland Waterways Law, Global warming to the GIS project. In addition, public hearings and Town Hall meetings are being organized by the state legislature, as well as summits (Education, Climate Change and Ehingbeti). In fact, the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of public functionaries including members of the State Executive Council, Local Government Chairmen, Permanent Secretaries, Police Commissioner, Area Commanders and Divisional Police Officers ( DPOs), have become public properties in order to make them more accessible to members of the public.
However, no matter how transparent and accessible a government is, for various reasons, it still has to contend with opposing views from time to time. This is the beauty of democracy. In a recent write up, published in one of the national dailies, a writer expressed his views on the now popular Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) of the Lagos State Government. Indeed, the writer was short of calling the project a complete failure. Consequently, it has become imperative to shed more light on the BRT project, in order to set the records straight or further enlighten as well as educate both the writer and other members of the public. The Fashola administration, in line with that of his predecessor, has been applying the principle of strategic thinking in the designing and implementation of all its policies and programmes. First, thorough assessment and analysis of issues are conducted; second all actors and stakeholders are brought in at all the stages of programme planning, implementation and design; third, programmes are designed based on felt and real needs; fourth, actions are then embarked upon, tracked, modified and reviewed, based on lesson learnt and as the new reality defines.
The same scientific trend is true of the conceptualization and execution of the BRT project which was strategically designed as part of the agenda of the state government to transform the state. BRT is a world-wide acknowledged system of mass transit which has the capability of moving huge number of people at a time. The system operates on the concept of utilizing dedicated lanes in areas where competition with highway traffic would be greatest while it makes use of existing highways and roads in areas that are less congested in order to reduce cost. The primary objective of the system in the state is to boost peopleâ€™s confidence in public transportation. Since its flag off on 17 May, 2008, BRT has lifted over 282 million passengers. Its bus fleet has increased from 100 at inception to 170 buses two months later and presently boasts of over 450 buses in its fleet. The Lagos BRT is reputed to be the first segregated bus route in Sub-Saharan Africa. With over 130,000 passengers lifted daily, the BRT option for mass transportation in Lagos has turned out to be a huge success. Indeed, the success of the scheme has elicited interests from countries such as Ghana, Egypt, Malaysia and several other states in the country which have sent delegates to under-study the Lagos BRT model.
It should be stressed that all the buses being used in the BRT operations are strictly owned by private operators who only enjoy the conducive operational environment provided by the state government through road segregation and upgrading of other road infrastructure. The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) for instance, owns some of the buses with funds secured from Ecobank Nigeria Ltd while another batch of the buses is owned by LAGBUS Assets Management Nigeria Limited. LAGBUS was established in 2007 with a mission to create a modern, safe and secure bus transportation system in Lagos State as well as provide a more secure alternative to the unregulated bus services which were characterised by discomfort, unreliability, fluctuating prices and the risk of criminal activity. Today, LAGBUS which started operation with 340 Marcopolo buses on 3 routes now has over 535 high capacity buses in its fold while its operational routes have increased to 21 across the state. Presently, LAGBUS is unarguably the largest bus intrastate operator in West Africa. It should be noted that LAGBUS, which manages the red buses, is not owned by the Lagos State Government. It is just an asset management company of which the Lagos State Government is a shareholder. LAMATA, which manages the operation of the BRT scheme, was officially launched on 2nd December, 2003, after its act, the Lagos Area Metropolitan Authority act was signed into law on January 13, 2002, with a mandate to ensure the highest level of service in public transportation in Lagos metropolis.
Buoyed by the widespread acceptance of the BRT scheme, the Lagos State Government extended its service to cover new routes such as Oshodi-Sango Ota, Iyana Ipaja-Ikotun, among others. The state government is presently making advanced plans to expand the scope of its operation to other routes such as Yaba-Oyingbo, which covers eight kilometres, and from Eric Moore in Surulere to Badagry which covers about 61 kilometres. In order to ensure that the quality service delivery and high standard associated with the BRT are not lowered, LAMATA, the government agency that monitors and regulates its activities, has continued to hold regular meeting with the operators and managers of the scheme. Additionally, regular training programmes are also organised for the operators to ensure that they do not derail from the objectives of the scheme.
The introduction of the BRT System has demonstrated that hitherto seemingly intractable transportation problems are indeed surmountable through vision, resourcefulness and the will to turn challenges into opportunities. Today, BRT has become the darling of most Lagosians because it is faster, safer, more reliable and more comfortable. More importantly, it has also led to the reduction of accidents as well as curtailed in-bus robbery otherwise known as â€˜one chanceâ€™. Up to One hour, fifty minutes is saved on a round trip, as 52 million passengers that would have been carried in 3.7m Danfo trips; pollution has reduced as a result of vehicles doing an average of 40 km/h compared to an average 15km/h pre-BRT era. Perhaps, more importantly, BRT has opened unlimited opportunities for thousands of people to make a living.
â€¢Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.