By Olasunkanmi Akoni
TO further boost intra-city transportation the Lagos State Government has added 100 new air-conditioned buses to the existing fleet through the partnership of LAGBUS Asset Management Limited and a franchise operator, Metro Bus.
An elated Governor Babatunde Fashola formally flagged off the operation of the new buses at the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, Yard, Oshodi, before a large crowd, last week.
Unveiling the new buses, with WIFI internet connection on board, Fashola reiterated his administration’s commitment to building a reliable and sustainable multi-modal transport system that is driven by the private sector.
The governor explained that the ultimate goal of the initiative is prosperity for the generality of the people, which could only be delivered in a structured partnership with the private sector.
He added that it is only by creating opportunity for private sector to take ownership, employ people and provide services that government can really deliver the prosperity of its dreams.
Transportation projects status
Reinforcing the multi-modal objective of the state government that is boosted with the increased bus fleet, Fashola gave a status update on the various transport related projects, informing that the jetties and the terminals in Mile 2, Badore, Osborne, Ipakodo, Ibeshe are nearing completion.
He stated that from just 150,000 passengers per month in 2007, the state is moving over 1.6 million people every month with about 200 ferries already licensed and owned by the private sector.
“So what we are doing on land today is already taking place on water and what we expect to see when all the jetties are commissioned is extension, bigger capacity ferries financed by banks and owned by individuals and small companies and then our job really would have been done.
“For now, there are a lot of water taxis carrying 16 to 24 passengers and there are almost 200 of them and everywhere you look on our waterways up to Ijegun-Egba you would see them. People are moving on a daily basis and a lot of employment is going on there,” he said.
Meanwhile, the state government had approved the concession of the fuel supply system to all terminals following advertised bids for which winners were later short-listed.
The ferry terminals, according to the government would be destination points for passengers with banking halls and all other facilities. Fashola assured that the same facilities that would be seen at the ferry terminals when they are opened would also be seen at the rail terminals, four of which have already been completed.
He continued: “We have completed Mile 2, Orile, Alaba and Costain stations for the rail. We are heading to the fifth station in Marina and if you are driving on the Marina you would see that we are driving pillar by pillar, we are on our way, so that you can come by water, join a bus and continue your journey from Marina and may be into Victoria Island when that one starts.
“There are seven lines for the whole of Lagos so the Master plan is ready and one by one we would connect this together. That is what is in the 2012-2025 Development Plan that we have just unveiled”.
He explained that the Bus Rapid Transit, BRT, system is all about empowering private sector and that the first partners were the road transport unions who owned the old buses on Lagos roads, adding that the government convinced them that if they could change their buses the face of transportation in Lagos would be changed.
“They agreed and bought the first set of buses. They took loans, paid off the loans, recapitalized but the environment in which they invested then has changed substantially”.
Tracing the origin of the first set of BRT buses, Fashola said it was the positive spin-off of a partnership with the private sector.
“Government did not own the BRT buses, it was private sector that owned them. Our job was to build the roads, bus shelters to maintain and manage them while they run their buses but that environment at the time they were borrowing money at $1 at N118 and interest rate at 10 percent has changed completely”, he added.
Fashola explained that when people see ageing buses that are not being replaced on the roads, it is not because government is not efficient but because the private sector is being incapacitated by financial regulations and economic policies of the Federal Government that are not helping them to grow.
“That is the reality because we expect them to now borrow money at N210 to $1 at 25 percent and we expect them to buy buses and keep them at the same prices. What kind of economy is that?”
“The Federal Government has also announced that it will increase tariff for the buses, so this is the environment in which the bus operators do business. And it is an environment we must begin to pay attention to if we must see growth in this industry”, he emphasized.
He explained that the administration in Lagos also felt that it had a role to play and that role was in setting up a government owned company, LAGBUS whose role is to provide support in the less commercially viable routes because government did not want to compete with its investors so that people who live in those areas will have some kind of support as private sector is in business for profit.
He said as a government that was always reviewing strategies, it thought the LAGBUS company itself was going to grind to a halt if all that it did was to run on unviable routes.
“So we expanded its width and this is where the bus franchising model came to life. And we said instead of you operating this now, sell all of these routes under franchises to private investors who would bring their buses but they would brand them in your colours, put their names on it and this is the model that has thrived in many parts of the world”.
“So we would see Metro Bus which is a franchise of LAGBUS and we would see a Diamond Bus and so many others under one franchise operating on minimum standards below which the bus system should not fall. It is a minimum of 20 buses to get a franchise because we didn’t want one bus owners. The Metro buses have come now with 100 buses and they say they would do more”, he explained.
Fashola saluted the courage of the investors for venturing to dare in spite of the difficulties of the market, adding that the new investment will offer 1500 new jobs as well as provision of WIFI internet connection on board the air-conditioned buses.
In terms of facilities for maintaining the buses, the state government currently has a maintenance yard at Cappa and Bolade with consideration of entering a structured partnership towards building a bigger maintenance yard that can service everybody’s investment and provide an opportunity for all.
Speaking earlier, the State Commissioner for Transportation, Mr Kayode Opeifa, described the launch of the new high capacity buses as another firm demonstration of the readiness of the present administration to implement the multi- modal transportation system.
Speaking at the event, the Managing Director of the LAGBUS Asset Management Limited, Mr Babatunde Disu said the buses will start operation soon, servicing main routes namely Sango-Oshodi-Obalende- Ikorodu-Island –Epe.
There are1800 buses servicing 47 routes. Ridership, it was learnt has risen by 31 per cent as 64.5 million passengers have been moved by LAGBUS between 2012 and December 2015.
Also speaking, the Managing Director of the Metro Bus, Mr Niyi Oguntoyinbo said parts of the innovative facilities available on the buses are access through preloaded cards that would generate 5000 jobs for mobile agents for the pre-loaded cards.
One of the innovative status of the initiative is that passengers can also send SMS to a number to know when the bus will arrive at their bus stop because it was realized that a lot of people wait at bus stops in vain and that the buses have been equipped with facilities that will enable the operators see the buses in real time and switch buses from one route to another to gain efficiency.
There is security camera on board to ensure safety of passengers. The live feeds from the cameras will be made available to security agencies to be able to track any mishap. Customers can also use WIFI on the buses as well as enjoy videos and music on the go.