WANTED: A REGULATOR FOR URBAN HIGHWAY TRANSPORT
Today there is no spectacle as ridiculous as the Nigerian motoring public in one of its periodic fits of anxiety about the near anarchy state of the urban road transport sector occasioned by the absence of a regulator. Every decade or so, the government tries to reform at least one sector of the transport industry and every decade or so one sector of the industry masses its forces to work the masses into distraction.
Diagnosing what is wrong with Nigeria's road transport sector is the easy part. Even though a large chunk of Nigeria's economy is spent on the road sector, poor traffic management, poor road capacity, lack of integration between urban planning and transport planning, dearth of high capacity public transport vehicles, weak institutional framework, and absence of a regulatory public transport framework, still plague the system nationwide with the most evident symptoms being, arbitrary pricing, fleets of wobbly and unstandardized vehicles, the menace of touts and the notorious traffic jams found in Lagos and in most other cities around the country. Meanwhile, because the railway system which is supposed to complement the road mode is still being repositioned and therefore conveying a comparatively low traffic, millions of Nigerians have no access to safe and affordable public transport service.
Lagos alone generates over 7 million passenger movements per day with the railway catering for just 8000 and leaving the rest to private cars, mini transit buses, molues, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Tricycles (Keke Marwa), and commercial motorcycles (Okada). Operators on the other hand lament continually about heavy taxes and levies imposed on them by the states, local governments, and transport unions coupled with extortions and harassments dished out to them daily by supposed traffic law enforcement agents, area boys, and touts. These on the average add up to the galloping operating costs incurred by transport operators daily, which many find unacceptable.
The Nigerian regulatory regime for road transport requires a revolutionary measure. The key issues arising are the need to make regulations for pricing and standards and for externalities like environmental pollution, noise annoyance, accidents and congestion and the enforcement of those regulations. Gbolahan Elias and Ukamaka Okoli in their paper: Nigerian Land Transport Infrastructure Deficits and Regulation, had blamed the weak regulatory framework of the road sector on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria arguing that the Constitution permits both the Federal and State governments to own road infrastructure and even regulatory agencies as is the case in Lagos with Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), and as a result there are co-ordination issues inherent in the reality that Nigeria has a Federal Government plus 36 State governments. However, while road infrastructure management is entirely different from transport operations management, what is required on the part of the Federal Government is a strong political will to address the possible conflicts of jurisdiction that are present in the current law through amendments.
Incidentally, the major issue confronting urban road transport sector in Nigeria is improving their efficiency through the use of traffic management and stricter enforcement measures. Comprehensive traffic improvement plans involving intersection improvements, relocation of markets, traffic signal control, one-way streets, road markings and traffic signals could improve traffic flow in all Nigerian cities. Certain of these measures would need to be accompanied by stronger enforcement of traffic laws and of parking controls. Road deterioration and road safety are also major issues which deserve greater attention at all levels of government. The main cause of the present untenable traffic management, road deterioration, and road safety situations is starvation of resources. Increasing funding and giving priority to these areas over new road construction should be the corner stones of urban highway policy in Nigeria.
The menace of touts and of transport union task force members across major cities in Nigeria has become a cause for worry among transport management experts. Aside from extortions, union members are known to harass, beat, and inflict injuries on conductors, drivers, and passengers on a daily basis. Curbing their excesses through legislation has become much more imperative now that their notoriety for violence is becoming a serious threat to the industry and to national security as many prospective investors now look elsewhere while those already in the field get demoralized to the point of selling off their buses seeing that it is no longer safe and profitable. Notwithstanding, safety is one of the most important issues in contemporary transport policies.
On affordability, the situation captured by World Bank ten years ago in Lagos still exists. According to the report, the poor have one third of the average income for the city, and then the average fare, the proportion of a poor working person's income spent on transport was over 54 percent and the expenditure of someone on an average income, was more than 17 percent. These are both very high and reflect the high fares charged on private bus modes in Lagos. This is a confirmation of earlier World Bank reports of 1993 and 1997 which affirmed that urban poor in Nigeria pay a very high proportion of their income for transport services and spend long periods of time travelling and waiting for infrequent and unreliable bus services. Till date, in Lagos and beyond, fare regulations are not strictly enforced and operators tend to latch on every social or political mishap like fuel scarcity to arbitrarily increase fares.
It is pertinent to note that of all the trips made by vehicles, 70% were by public transport, which is dominated by private sector operators. According to Kayode Oyesiku in his paper: City Poverty and Emerging Mobility Crisis: The Use of Motorcycle as Public Transport in Nigerian Cities, more than 95% of all urban public transport journeys in Nigeria are provided by private operators using mainly taxis and paratransit buses. Interestingly, many of the urban residents are less accessible to these transport services. Besides, the service delivery of public transport operators is less satisfactory to the urban commuters in Nigeria. Unfortunately, existing policies at the state and local government levels on the mode of operation of public transport services in Nigeria do not consider the quality of transport services in relation to comfort, affordability, safety and income level, which are all of paramount importance to mobility pattern of urban residents in any country of the world. Essentially, public sector investment is necessary but not sufficient. Private sector investment, both local and foreign, is very much needed if quality of services must improve. It is unlikely that the volume of private sector investment that is needed to redress the deficit will be made as long as the regulatory regime for the road transport sector remains as poorly-developed as it currently is. Investors like clarity. There is an urgent need for the regulatory regime to be strengthened.
Of the six transport industry bills that have been stagnant at the National Assembly, the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill is the most important for the transport sector in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the bill that sets out a commission for the economic regulatory framework for the transportation of people and goods be it road, inland waterways, or rail, has been marooned by the National Assembly. An economic regulator for road transport would ensure that there is fair commercial operation amidst competitive practices and ensure efficiency in transport services provision by the operators. Further, the commission is billed to promote private sector participation in the provision of transport services.
Though NTC as economic regulator will not deal with technicalities of the operations of transport, or compliance, it is so far the best news for the road transport sector. It is hoped that government would see the need to include issues of road worthiness, standardization, research and development, as core responsibilities of the commission as time goes on. As experts and stakeholders continue to call on the presidency to prioritise the development of the transport industry, the National Assembly should rise to the occasion and do the needful by passing into law the relevant transport industry bills that have been gathering dust in their chambers.
***Chigozie Chikere, The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILT) Nigeria Member, Institute of Transport Administration (IOTA) Nigeria Rector, Emdee Shipping & Maritime College, Apapa