INTERNAL WRANGLINGS CRIPPLE ABUJA BRT
Over one year after the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) flagged off its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme, the project is yet to commence, LEADERSHIP can authoritatively report.
The FCT minister Bala Mohammed had inaugurated the scheme on May 24, 2011, at a well-attended ceremony in Abuja where he said the administration had concessioned high-capacity, mini bus and taxi services to five licensed companies to operate under a scheme called Abuja Greater Operators' Licence Scheme.
He said the scheme was important as it would ease traffic gridlocks on major entry points into the FCT during peak periods, as the buses would be able to commute very fast using the dedicated lanes.
The minister disclosed that the administration, under the scheme, would deliver 500 buses on the seven designated routes in the city, adding that 100 buses had already been procured for the pilot phase of the scheme in the high-capacity bus category.
Prior to the inauguration, the secretary, FCT Transportation Secretariat, Mr Jonathan Achara, had informed journalists that, to ensure a seamless takeoff of the BRT scheme, a team from the FCT had gone to Lagos State to understudy the operation of a similar scheme.
Achara also said that the BRT lanes had been marked across the FCT and assured that the arrangement would not affect normal traffic flow.
'All we want to do is to remove traffic congestion from the routes we already have, redirect movements and effect a better access to collector points in the city to ensure that economic activities are not hampered,' he said, adding that the BRT would operate on e-payment for passengers to enhance accountability in the operation of the buses.
After several months of postponement, the FCT administration announced that the scheme would take off on December 25, 2011, but this was never to be.
It was learnt that although the officials in charge of the scheme at the FCTA Transportation Secretariat had convinced the FCT minister that the December roll-out date was feasible, internal wrangling and clash of interests has made that dream unrealisable.
A source at the Transportation Secretariat confided in our correspondent that a top official, who was not happy with some of the companies licensed to operate the BRT scheme had been frustrating their efforts by delaying official approval for delineation of the routes and installation of signages on the bus lane.
It was learnt that without the provision of these basic infrastructure, the operators may not meet the requirements demanded by their bankers to enable them release the funds and buses, which have since been brought into the country in anticipation of the takeoff of the BRT scheme.
An official of one of the licensed operators who would not want his name in print attributed the long delay in the takeoff of the scheme to the inability of the administration to meet up with some terms of the agreement entered into with the concessionaires.
Further findings by LEADERSHIP revealed that the failure of the FCT administration to put in place facilities such as ticketing booths, bus shelters and proper delineation of the dedicated BRT lanes had been stalling the rollout of the scheme.
LEADERSHIP also gathered that one of the concessionaires had suggested to the administration that, rather than use concrete delineators as was used in Lagos, the FCT administration should step up and use modern flexible delineators. He had even suggested that he would procure the delineators, but certain persons in the administration hell-bent on frustrating the concessionaire had stood in the way of the proposal.
When our correspondent took a tour around the city, she observed what could best be described as a mockery of the BRT scheme. The FCT administration had, in total deviation from the norm in the operation of the BRT scheme, embarked on the use of security agents including men of the Directorate of Road Transport Services (DRTS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) as delineators.
This is just as none of the infrastructure required for the operation of the scheme has been put in place, apart from the marking with yellow paint of one of the lanes on the already narrow roads as dedicated BRT lanes.
In an interview, the public relations officer of the Transportation Secretariat, Mrs. Stella Ojeme, explained that most of the buses were parked in the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company office because 'they are new buses and we do not want to just give them to drivers who were just newly employed. We need to insure them, and it is for the sake of insurance that they are not yet on the road'.
She further explained that another reason for the delay in the roll-out of the scheme was that the operators were having legal issues with the secretariat.
'Some of them who were supposed to run the high-capacity bus scheme didn't have the capacity and they did not tell us that they didn't have the capacity, so we are reviewing their licence, and some of them went to court. Because the matter is in court, I can't really talk about it now,' she added.
On the issue of delineators, she said the administration was aware that the markings on the road were not enough and was working on it but was waiting for the 2012 budget to get to the secretariat to fast-track the process.
She however attributed the decision of the secretariat to use human beings as delineators to indiscipline on the part of drivers. 'If only Nigerians would learn to obey simple instructions. That line, anywhere in developed countries when you see a line saying 'do not cross into this lane', that it is dedicated for buses, people adhere. But Nigerians do not do this and we have to secure these lanes,' she stated.