Roads are worn-out; rail is imperative!
The traffic situation in Nigeria, particularly in most major cities, takes a toll on the health of many road users, while at the same time, resulting in loss of man-hours which could have been spent engaging in other productive endeavours. Akinwumi Ambode, governor of Lagos state while being represented by Tunji Bello, Secretary to LASG at the sixth annual lecture of the Federal Road Safety Corps last year, even asserted that the state loses N42 billion annually to traffic congestion.
However empirically deficient the claim is, the fact remains, the chaotic traffic situation in many parts of Nigeria, Lagos particularly, results in a substantial amount of financial loss to businesses and individuals. The value of time in transport economics is described as the opportunity cost of the time that a traveller spends on his/her journey. In essence, this makes it the amount that a traveller would be willing to pay in order to save time, or the amount they would accept as compensation for lost time.
The impact of traffic congestion is palpable to anyone witnessing delay on Lagos’ roads. The World Bank in 2009 estimated that 8 million people travel to work via public transportation each day on the 9,100 roads and expressways available in Lagos. The Economic Intelligence Unit of the Lagos State Ministry of Economic Planning & Budget, noted in 2013 that, with more than 1 million registered vehicles as at 2011, there are potentially more than one million trips made during the peak travel periods of the day; this is much more during seasonal festivities such as Easter and Christmas when there is an influx from other parts of the country. In 2013, an additional 369,071 vehicles were registered in Lagos, as shown by data from the National Bureau of Statistics. Presently, the state would have about two million vehicles plying the state’s dilapidated roads and adding to the stress commuters are subjected to.
The effects of road traffic congestion are visible on the economy, infrastructures, environment and health. The actual economic impacts of traffic congestion can differ from one area to other, depending on its economic profile and business location pattern.
In Lagos, the traffic appears to get worse with every passing day. When it appears to get better, the average road user is not only relieved, but pleasantly surprised, while hoping the experience lasts longer, albeit a false expectation. In the rainy season it only gets worse, and people are torn between ‘praying’ for rain, and ‘suffering’ the consequences that follow on the roads.
However, at this time in our history, we should be keeping pace with the rest of the world in rail transportation. It is disgraceful that we can only evolve new ways to fill potholes in Nigeria, instead of building lasting roads, and more importantly, embracing speed rail.
In a place like Apapa, where the government generates billions of naira from the ports on a daily basis, life is made very difficult for everyone who has to do business in that environment on account of the chaotic traffic logjam. It is now normal to have hundreds of articulated vehicles (tankers and trailers), lining up along the decades old bridges that lead into Apapa. They stay there for several days at a stretch as they make their way to the ports one at a time. Other (smaller) vehicles have to enter Apapa by driving against traffic on the opposite direction, unless of course they wish to spend 3 days to drive in instead of 3 minutes. It is indeed a terrible situation. It gets very terrible for days, and eases up for a little while, and then the cycle continues. But as with most things that go wrong in Nigeria, it is gradually ‘becoming normal’.
We however want to reiterate that the situation is far from normal, and should never be allowed to become normal. It is time to stop making rail projects synonyms for white elephant projects in Nigeria. The NBS, in its publication on Transport Statistics, described rail transport as the most suitable mode of transportation for heavy traffic flows, when speed is also an advantage because of the lower cost per person, per load, as the train load increases.
The federal and state governments (not only in Lagos) must as a matter of urgency, start making medium to long term rail development projects that will cater to the growing population across the country, save the deteriorating, inefficient road infrastructure, and stimulate economic growth. Ongoing rail projects need to be given the devotion required. It is time to stop profiting from the misery of Nigerians through projects that perpetually remain uncompleted, yet, have had funds allocated.
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