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Commuters groan as Abuja transport scheme remains in shambles

In 2013 the FCTA banned minibuses from operating in the city centre and on major routes in order to promote cheaper transport fares and enhance persenger comfort and security.
The then minister, Bala Mohammed said most of the Araba buses were rickety and emitted poisonous gases into the atmosphere, while their presence in the model capital city was an eyesore.
He said the policy would lead to the identification of transport operators and companies through biometrics data capturing, promotion of healthy competition among operators, reduction of traffic congestion, road traffic accidents and transport related crimes and criminalities.
Despite the lofty plans, the administration could not achieve its aims.  Aso Chronicle findings revealed that huge sums of money were expended on several projects in a bid to lighten the burden of commuters but with little success.
The government has been struggling to curtail and control the mass movement of the commuters to the city daily. The task was made more difficult with the influx of people into the territory in search of employment and business opportunities.
While the government had experimented with various policies and projects gulping millions since 2013, the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company (AUMTCO) with over 400 long capacity buses in its fleet has performed no better. AUMTCO’s communication and marketing manager, Tunde Akintola, said the transport company has been limited by the unavailability of bus stops and the activities of taxi drivers.
Among the palliatives was the approval of N500 million as grant by the Federal Government from the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programmes (SURE-P) to existing registered transport operators in the FCT, yet commuters still complain about the system.
The Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT) system conceived to ease transportation difficulties had not fared any better. Instead, it only compounded commuters’ troubles. Though a novel project, especially looking at how successful the model worked for Lagos, it is still a matter of conjecture why the project could not work in the territory.
The yellow markings to identify BRT lanes long faded, while the project instantly hit the rock on many routes, especially the ever congested Nyanya axis.
Plastic road embankments were bought at the cost of N4,500 each and used to demarcate lanes meant for the BRT buses in 2013. But it wasn’t long before the embankments were broken by  motorists after which they were removed and abandoned at the road shoulder.
The orange and black non-reflective embankments made up of fabricated plastic lined so many routes in the territory.
Divine Iyke, a taxi driver, queried the intention of the government to have procured the road embankments when the road is not wide enough, alleging that it was another attempt to embezzle government fund.
“The truth is that government is not involved in the transport sector, they are just punishing the masses,”  he said.
He said most of the schemes introduced by the government are not affordable for the masses, adding that affluent buy the vehicles and sell at exorbitant prices to taxi drivers.
On his part, Suleiman Ibrahim said the BRT, SURE-P and Abuja Urban Mass Transit vehicles are inadequate to address the huge in-flow of people into the city.
“People, especially those in Nyanya are always more than the available vehicles, so how do you expect them to get to their offices in time?” Ibrahim said.
He said though the government has been trying to sanitise the transportation sector in the FCT, he bemoaned poor maintenance culture of vehicle owners and operators.
“People operating the schemes are only helping themselves at the expense of the masses,” he said, urging the government to probe all the interventions in the transportation sector since 2013.
Kachi Chikwedu, a commuter, said that most roads on the Nyanya-Maraba axis are too narrow for a lane to be designated for BRT buses.
He said the roads should have been expanded like the Kubwa-Zuba expressway before procuring the ridges.
“The government did not try at all, they should have made the road a carriageway before coming up with that idea, now all the plastics are kept in Kugbo, while some have been broken,” he said.
Chikwedu said government officials need to visit satellite towns during the morning rush hour to have a firsthand understanding of the plight of the masses. 
“People wake up as early as 4:30a.m. but don’t get to their offices until 9:00a,m.” he said, attributing it to shortage of vehicles to convey passengers.
He said that on many occasions, private vehicles come to the rescue, forcing many motorists into the transport business.
Among private motorists who have taken the opportunity to pick up passengers is Solomon Ekejiuba, a civil servant. He said he ended up in the business especially during rush hours due to the huge crowd at the bus stops.
“Hardship is another reason why I do not want to leave it since I have tasted it because with fuel price at N145, I do make money to augment the amount I use to fuel my vehicle,” he said.
Reports have it that the effort of the transport secretariat is geared towards improving free flow of the BRT.
Some residents have, however, benefited from the abandonment of the embankments by putting them into other personal uses.
For example, it serves football players in Nyanya to demarcate their playing pitch. The ridges come handy for traders on Wednesdays during the Nyanya market days as they use them to also form their stands.
While government sweats about the sustainable policy to addressing the transportation challenges in the territory, several unpainted car taxis make brisk businesses. So many people have converted their private vehicles to commercial use with Sport Utility Vans (SUV) now in trend.  
A source at the Transport Secretariat confirmed to our reporter that the road embankments were not abandoned rather they were kept in a secured location so that they can be filled with concrete. The source said, the move would make the kerbs durable and cannot be easily broken as the case was in the past.
Reacting to the story, the Assistant Director Public Relations of the Transport Secretariat, Ifeanyi Ughamadu, said the FCTA has done enough in easing the movement of  commuters from satellite towns to the city centre since the ban of Araba.
He said there are enough high capacity buses for commuters to board to the city centre, adding that commuters never get stranded at bus stops.
“After the ban of Araba, the intention was to have few vehicles that will enter the city. The government now decided on the BRT lane, to ensure that those who board high capacity buses would reach their destination faster. If that had worked, people would be discouraged from coming to the city with their vehicles,” he said.
He explained that most satellite town dwellers faced challenges coming into the city because, “In the morning hours, everybody is coming out at the same time to go to their offices, Abuja is structured in such a way that almost all the activities are done at the same time so you should expect that cluster.”
Ughamadu said commuters along  Nyanya would soon heave a sigh of relief because there is a move to add more lanes to the Nyanya routes, “it is in the budget and they may likely do that road.”

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