The recent hike in the price of commuting on Lagos Rapid Bus Transport (BRT) scheme was a child of necessity in the face of skyrocketing cost of diesel. It is understandable that franchisees have to cover the cost of operation, but there is a lot more the state government can do than to jack up fares every time operating cost surges. Beyond reactionary measures, the current harsh reality is another opportunity for the government to think outside the box and intensify its multi-modal sustainable transport strategy that Lagos megacity deserves.
A recent global research project on 25 megacities, including Lagos, conducted by GlobeScan and MRC McLean (two independent research organisations, sponsored by Siemens, the infrastructure provider), showed that transportation exceeds all other urban infrastructure concerns by a large margin. However, transport infrastructure and services in Lagos have remained at levels originally meant to cater for a population of no more than eight million people, 25 years ago. The density of the bus public transport network in Lagos of about 0.4 km/1000 population is quite low even by African standards. There are about 222 vehicles per kilometre of road in Lagos, which by far, outweighs the national average of 11 vehicles per kilometre of road. It is based on those facts that the mega city is one of the most chaotic globally and its transportation nightmare intractable. This is so evident that Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State jokingly said those who have lived in Lagos for 20 years should be given a free pass to heaven due to traffic congestion in the commercial city.
While transportation, logistics and trade are all interlinked in such a way that efficient transport services are a prerequisite to achieving greater productivity, Nigeria, like all other developed economies, needs to start working towards achieving full implementation of a multi-modal transport system as well as making it more attractive for private investors. Some of the benefits of having an efficient transportation system in Nigeria are provision of alternatives to reliance on road transportation, reduction of traffic congestion as well as reduction of travel times. It also helps reduce pollution as well as improve quality of lives. Nigeria needs to upgrade its transport system by adopting modern transportation strategies such as multimodal transportation system driven through the use of automated and digital technology systems to help realign the different modes of transportation (railway, buses, ferries, airlines, pipeline); and optimise its efficiency.
Though Lagos indefensibly prides itself as a megacity, it remains without a functional integrated transport system. Intra-city rail transportation is still in the offing and water transportation is essentially yet to be properly harnessed for efficient, safe and mass transit services. With rising diesel prices and pressure on household incomes, the need to embrace an intermodal transport system is significant. The present rise in diesel price provides Nigeria with pains and opportunities. Already, people, companies, and organisations are struggling with the crippling effect of high energy prices, from petrol and gas to diesel. The economy is in a meltdown. Something needs to be done fast. But this time provides an opportunity to get it right by creating policies and actions that will help with the energy crisis now.
Water transportation provides an opportunity for Lagos State to move more people at a cost-effective rate by deploying bigger boats, while it awaits the completion of its rail project. As of October 2021, only 3.2% of Lagosians used ferry services. Lagos’ chaotic transportation system, caused by the fact that more than 90 per cent of transit relies on roads, is a significant difficulty. The State’s plans to diversify by utilising water transportation, light rail, and helicopter shuttle services remains yet to be actualised fully. Despite these ambitions, it is worthy to note that commuters must perceive water transportation as sustainable and secure; it cannot just be a response to catastrophes.
Accident avoidance must come first. Increased governmental oversight, more private involvement, and the development of the state’s multimodal transport potential are required.
The Lagos State Ferry Services, owned and managed by the state, has a total of 20 boats in its fleet, 15 of them purchased in the last three years by the Sanwo-Olu administration. While the drive is commendable, it is not enough for a megacity like Lagos. The government needs to incentivise private investors with guarantees of returns. Lagos State must enforce international best practices across jetties and terminals to safeguard lives.
The apathy witnessed with water transportation is as a result of the various incidents of boat mishaps, inadequate supply and high cost of water transportation. The rising cost of diesel is an opportunity to plan for the future of Lagos transportation.
In the long run, the government should plan for a post-carbon energy era. Sustainable and renewable energy is the future. The government needs to make policies and take actions that target the provision of clean energy by using the advantages of the existing carbon energy to fund the energy transition. We will suggest that the government develops a new institutional mechanism for managing the funds from this last stage of the rapid oil transition revenue. It should localise the Paris climate propositions. Nigeria needs an ambitious proposal that will drive net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the country’s economy by 2035, while not jeopardising the overall economic health of the country. If the hike in diesel price is not maximised for a paradigm shift, the ultimate losers in this will be Nigerian households. This is because businesses will struggle to pass through as much of these increases to households that can barely accommodate these rising costs with limited changes to income.