By OLASUNKANMI AKONI & MONSUR OLOWOOPEJO

•LAMATA to launch 350 buses
Nigeria’s business hub, Lagos, one of Africa’s biggest cities, with an estimated population of 20 million inhabitants is famous for three distinctive features: high commercial activities, rush/congestion and its popular yellow commercial buses.

For several decades, molue, type of the yellow commercial buses had remained the major means of commercial commuting in the city. Over time, the poorly-maintained, rickety and smoky long buses started becoming an eyesore, worsening traffic congestion and accident-prone. From thence, the idea of phasing it out became a recurring one.

Last week, the moluebecame a casualty of the ongoing transformation of Lagos metropolis into a mega city when the Lagos Road Traffic Law, claimed its second victim; the first being the restriction of commercial motorcyclists, known as Okada.

Last Tuesday, the state government banned 911 commercial buses popularly called moluefrom crossing any of the link bridges to the Lagos Island and importantly, operating within the Central Business District CBD. The link bridges are Third Mainland Bridge, Carter Bridge and Eko Bridge. At different occasions, moluebuses had plunged into the lagoon, with some of the victims rescued alive and few unfortunate ones losing their lives in the process.

The popular Afro beat maestro, late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, dedicated one of his numerous albums: Suffering and Smilingto the molue. With 44 passengers sitting and 99 standing.Fela used the song to call the attention of governments then to the abysmal state of public transportation in the country. The name molue, according to an official of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, was actually coined from the English word, ‘maul’, meaning handle- roughly because of the way passengers scramble to board the bus.

A typical Molue Garage in Lagos.

Why the ban
The General Manager of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority LASTMA, Engr. Babatunde Edu, during a meeting with chairmen of the Lagos Urban Bus Owners Association of Nigeria, LUBON, operators of molue, last Wednesday, stressed that the move, was to ensure adequate monitoring of the operations of commercial vehicles and compliance with traffic rules and regulations.

“Although the new directive should have been effective since 19thof August, 2012, but Lagos State being a responsive and responsible government which believes in enlightenment before enforcement, decided to shift the enforcement to 4thof this month.

“Officials of LASTMA have been mandated to ensure strict compliance and impound any such vehicles found to have flouted the directive after expiration of the ultimatum, September 4, 2013.” he said.

However, Edu, when contacted on the compliance level by operators, expressed satisfaction so far and urged operators to sustain voluntary compliance in their best interest. He said molue can ply in any other parts of the state aside the restricted areas. He emphasized that the state government had not banned the operations of moluein the state but rather it has restricted their operations to areas like Orile, Iyana-Ipaja, Mile 2 and Mile 12 among others.

Residents react: Mr. Anthony Ikenna, a concerned resident said: “This is another anti- poor legislation. The state government should have provided enough BRT buses before banning the alternative. Passengers sometimes spend three hours waiting for buses from Obalende to Oshodi due to the scarcity of the BRT. Very soon the Keke Marwa will also be banned, who knows what will follow next.”

Drivers’ complaint: Drivers of molueand danfo buses however, blame the manner of driving on the life style of Lagos and the people who are always in a haste to get to their destinations.

Abib Yusuf, a danfo driver, said: “In Lagos, making money is the rule of the game. If you don’t hurry up, the money will leave you behind.” Jimoh Abdullai, a molue driver for the past 15 years, said: “poverty and lack of fund lead to driving molue.”

NURTWofficials react: In response, the leader of the team Engr. Taofeek Adesina, commended the government for its effort to restore sanity and order in the state and therefore pledged the readiness of his union to support the new cause.

State Chairman of NURTW, Tajudeen Agbede, admitted that they were duly carried along on the policy and that all members have been notified and warned to ensure total compliance.

Special taskforce
He disclosed that the union had also set up a special taskforce to monitor and ensure compliance.

“We have set up our own special taskforce to go round and discipline any member found to have flouted the ban. We have advised them to form a cooperative to be able to tap into the state LAGBUS or Bus Rapid Transit, BRT, franchise.

“The state government has offered to assist us in alleviating the effect of the ban by giving us LAGBUs franchise, through cooperative union. have advised them to form cooperative union so that we could apply for state franchise. We are okay with the state government in ensuring that no one is left out of his job.”

BRT buses by LAMATA: Dr. Dayo Mobereola, Managing Director, Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, LAMATA, regulator of the Bus Rapid Transit, BRT, said the authority, in collaboration with operators is set to introduce 50 new buses and refurbish 100 serviceable vehicles by the end of September.

Mobereola, stressed that the measure was part of a holistic plan to return the BRT operations and experience to its once efficient and effective state at launch in 2008.

He said the state government was not unaware of the challenges commuters are facing, noting that serious steps are currently being taken to ensure the restoration of efficient and effective service delivery.

Mobereola said: “The operator (the 1st BRT Cooperatives) has concluded arrangements for the acquisition of 50 new buses, the refurbishment of 100 serviceable vehicles and a re-structuring of its operations management team by the end of the third quarter of 2013.

“The state government through LAMATA is working with the operator of the BRT System, the NURTW, 1st BRT Cooperative to ensure a full turnaround. As a regulating agency, we are working behind the scene to ensure that the ideals of the BRT system at conception and launch are not lost. Very soon, the change that commuters rightly expect would be evident. The operator has placed an order for 50 new buses as part of the process of re-fleeting the system”.

Fashola meets BRT, LAGBUS, Franchise coys, others: Sequel to the ban, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, penultimate Sunday, met with the LAGBUS and BRT bus Captains/Pilots, management and staff of the state’s mass transit bus systems, urging them to show more dedication and passion towards their jobs.

Fashola, who addressed the scores of bus pilots and captains as well as representatives of the franchise companies among others at the LASTMA Yard in Oshodi, said all the staff needed to make the business grow for their benefit and that of their employees was a change of attitude, a more businesslike approach and a deeper sense of ownership.

He listed the adverse reports from the public to include: reckless driving and rudeness to commuters among others, adding “there are endless opportunities in this business but they can only be possible if this business continues to grow”.

He recalled that he served on a committee before that tried to get some companies to come to the state and manufacture buses and vehicles. “They told us that our market demand was not enough and that they would instead supply us the vehicles from South Africa. The reason was simple. Though we are more populous than South Africa, we do not have an organized bus system that they can measure and be certain that it can grow by X number of buses in the next 10 years and grow by Y number of buses in another 10 years so they can set up a factory here and believe that over the next 20 years the company would continue to have demand for jobs.

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