Achieving Affordable Public Transport in Lagos and NMT

Affordable Transport in Lagos

Affordable transport implies better access to opportunities and urban services by the poor population. According to Online TDM Encyclopaedia – affordable transport is when people can afford access to basic goods and activities or services such as education, healthcare, work, basic shopping, etc., and it requires that households spend less than 20% of their budgets on transportation. Other writers put the percentage spend at 10-15% of household income. Thus, this is a question of equity and the major beneficiaries of public transportation are supposed to be those at the base of the economic pyramid. However, unfortunately though, studies have shown that modern transport planning responds well to demands of wealthy travellers but not to the needs of the poor.

As the population continues to grow, demand for housing grows, as well as rent. Land speculation also increases and the people in low economic class are pushed further away from the city centres where the opportunities and urban services are to the fringes of the city where housing, particularly, is more affordable. Most of these places are poorly connected to the city’s transportation network with very poor and inadequate access roads and road networks. This further makes accessibility and mobility more difficult for this group.

Research on certain cities shows, and expectedly so, that people in the lowest income group make a smaller number of trips than those in the highest income group. However, they spend a higher percentage of their income on transportation compared to those in the highest income group. Generally, poor workers spend larger shares of their income on their work trip.

In Lagos, the story is not different. An employee earning the minimum monthly wage of 30,000 Naira and living in the periphery of the state where accommodation is affordable would expectedly spend more than 50% of his earning on transport to work alone depending on where the work is located, mainly Ikeja, Lagos Island or Victoria Island (an average of N750 per day and 20 working days a month will give N15,000 monthly on transport). This has definitely reduced his accessibility to other opportunities and urban services. Hence, public transport in Lagos remains relatively expensive for most of its population. It is estimated that about 65% of the city’s population are actually urban poor most of who rely on the public transport system for their daily commuting as 52% of households in Lagos own no cars, according to LAMATA. Also, figures from LAMATA show that 80% of the daily passenger trips were made by public transport. This implies that over half of the households in Lagos depend on public transport for mobility and accessibility.

It is actually a no-brainer, although there is evidence, that the relatively high cost of urban transport is having a negative impact on the lives of the urban poor – either through restricting their access to only jobs and urban services that are within feasible walking or cycling distance, by consuming an unsustainable proportion of their income, or by dramatically curtailing the number of journeys that they make.

Public Transport Reforms

The turn of the century witnessed a number of reforms in the Lagos transport sector. Up until then, public transportation was provided by the informal public transport operators (individual one-bus owners) who owned molues (large school buses which are now phased out) and danfos (smaller yellow buses) which over the years have become an important symbol of the Lagos City everyday experience. Among many things, they represent the struggles and resilience of an average Lagosian. They are the face of public transportation in Lagos. These buses, molues and danfos alike, are characterised by high level inconveniences, discomfort, risks, and poor-quality service.

To assuage the unpleasant situation and to cater for the dire transport needs of the people of Lagos State, the government in 2008 piloted the BRT system on one corridor in the state to provide Lagosians a safe, comfortable and convenient transport option which is also affordable. Since then, the state government has been doing a lot to extend the BRT to other parts of the state by creating more corridors for the BRT buses.

In addition, the state government has been working to develop other off-road transport modes like the ferry by creating more jetties, providing more ferries and putting structures in place to attract and encourage private sector participation for better and more sustainable service provision. Also in the offing is the state’s rail transport system. Despite the government’s continued efforts to integrate the different transport modes for a more efficient transport system, the BRT system, water transportation and the rail remains grossly insufficient and its affordability is debatable.

However, since the formal public transport system is grossly inadequate, 90% of public transport services in Lagos are still being provided by the yellow buses (danfos). The informal and unregulated nature of the operation of these buses make their pricing very volatile and unpredictable, subject to whims and caprices of the operators. Unfortunately, these price hikes are without corresponding improvement in the quality of service or conditions of their vehicles which are generally poor and uncomfortable. Although unregulated, these informal transport service providers are largely under the control of their unions, the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and Road Transport Employers Association (RTEA). In a similar vein, the water transport system, which was to be an alternative for people living in areas of the state with access to the lagoon, until recent interventions by the government, was too expensive and unsafe.

In all fairness though, interactions with public transport operators on the incessant hikes revealed the fact that there are often genuine reasons for the increase in their prices. The reasons they often give include the numerous unreceipted monies collected or, as the case may be, extorted from them by various actors in the industries particularly their own NURTW through the agberos or area boys present at almost every bus stop demanding or forcing money out of them. The various traffic law enforcement agencies are also culprits in all these, extorting money at every opportunity from these operators. These, coupled with incessant fuel and motor spare parts price hikes, add to the running costs of their business. So, who pays for all these if not the commuters who, mostly, are at the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder? These public transporters use these reasons as excuses to exploit commuters.

Furthermore, drivers of these yellow buses are mostly seen as constituting a nuisance on the road and as menace to the society, and justifiably so. Their mode of driving – reckless and inconsiderate, their often very offensive demeanour and attitude in the public make them an irritant and thorn in the flesh of other road users, the public and even traffic law enforcement agencies. To deal with this, the Lagos state government over the years has been making efforts to ban, or mildly put, phase them out, and get them off Lagos roads.

As part of its strategy, the state, through its bus reform programme, is making efforts to bring in standard buses and encouraging private sector participation and cooperation in its First and Last Mile Transport Initiative to replace the danfos. This might help standardise and regulate pricing while helping in the subsidy implementation process. This however might not be efficient in addressing the issue around equity as the middle class, and not necessarily the low-income population, is more likely to benefit from the subsidy regime. However, phasing out the informal transport operators is only possible where their formal counterparts have developed sufficient capacity to meet the public transport demand in the city. But is phasing out the informal transport operators the solution? Is there any possibility for the government to put some level of regulation in that sub-sector and allow them to feed the mass transit operations? Maybe questions for another essay.

 The policy gaps

States often develop transport policies to provide a blueprint for the transport sector. According to The Geography of Transport System, transport policy helps implementers to make decisions concerning the allocation of transport resources. Transport policy goals and objectives always aim at ensuring a safe, affordable, comfortable, reliable, and sustainable environment for accessibility and mobility for the generality of the people. The Lagos Transport Policy is thus formulated to be able to clearly identify challenges, indicate clear direction and identify measures to be taken to effectively tackle transport challenges in the state. Making transport affordable seems to be the major thrust of the Lagos State Transport Policy and the subsidy instrument seems to be the major strategy the government has identified to achieve affordable transport. However, not much is said about how this would be carried through. Furthermore, the document highlighted integration of the different modes of transportation in the state and private sector participation as its approaches for achieving more effective and efficient transport, which might lead to profit as the main goal.

Generally, subsidies are implemented to make public transport affordable, especially for low-income people and are thus very important to achieve affordability. According to a World Bank document titled, “Affordability and Subsidies in Public Urban Transport”, two kinds of policies were identified depending on the side targeted by the policy. These are supply-side subsidies and demand-side subsidies Even though it is difficult to determine if these subsidies have positively impacted the poor in different societies, demand-side subsidies have proven to perform better although they mostly do not improve income distribution. Besides encouraging a shift from supply-side subsidies to demand-side, the paper also advocated integrating transport social concerns into wider poverty alleviation efforts.

The Lagos Transport Policy suggests that the government’s subsidy is targeted only at the supply-side as emphasis is laid basically on encouraging and removing all barriers towards the private sector participation in the development, provision, maintenance, operation and upgrading of transport infrastructure and services. The policy seems to be based on the assumption that supporting and creating an enabling environment for the private sector to operate would bring about an efficient and affordable public transport in the state. This approach echoes through most of the government’s public transport initiatives which include the Bus Rapid Transport system and the First and Last Mile Transport Scheme. Other related documents of the state include the Lagos State Traffic law (2018) and Non-motorised Transport Policy.

For a couple years now, Lagos Urban Development Initiative has been collaborating with the Heinrich Boell Stiftung in researching and designing solutions for the mobility challenges in the state and have done quite a bit on the issues of affordable transport and NMT. In the course of this year, the State House of Assembly passed the bill for a law to amend the Lagos state Transport Reform Law of 2018. The new law is expected to help the state develop a more effective and well-integrated transport system and, according to the Speaker of the House, to provide a seamless transportation system for the people of Lagos and ultimately contribute to its socio-economic development. It was gathered that the new Amended Transport Sector Reform Law (2021) would harmonise all the available policies in the transport sector into one comprehensive document. However, to what extent or how adequately this law would be addressing issues around affordability and NMT in the state is still unknown. Our conversation with a senior staff of LAMATA on this Law revealed that even LAMATA is not privy to how robust its provision would be for NMT. Several attempts were also made to engage the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Transportation through its chairman, Hon Temitope Adewale, on what their efforts are on transport affordability and NMT with respect to the proposed amendment of the Transport Reform law and also to present to the Committee lessons learned and recommendations from previous research and stakeholders’ engagements and other activities of the organisation on transportation in the state. Unfortunately, all efforts to engage the Committee Chairman proved abortive as he was unresponsive. These efforts have shown how civil society is usually pushed out of the policy and governance discussions, though we are integral especially to bring in voices of local communities and research. For now, we keep our fingers crossed until we are able to access a copy of the amended law and work with the legislative arm of Lagos State Government. Till then we will continue to advocate and produce research that can support the continued development of the transport sector in Lagos State.


What can we learn from other parts of the world?

In conclusion, many cities of the world are implementing various initiatives to make transport more affordable for their people. Some of these, Lagos State could borrow from and adapt to fit its own peculiarities.

In São Paulo, the government has a federally mandated subsidy that requires employers to make up the difference between 6 percent of salaries and the cost of home to work travel for formal employees. This however excludes workers in the informal sectors. In Islamabad, Pakistan in the 90s, the government introduced a franchise system. Under this, operators were given exclusive rights on a route in return for a guaranteed minimum level of service. A subsidy of between 4 percent and 8 percent was offered on the cost of non-air conditioned and air-conditioned buses respectively. Some cities in Europe like Bucharest and Sofia offer discounted monthly tickets. In addition, there are also preferential passes for pensioners and students. Most European cities also use intermodal tickets, which are valid for most modes of public transportation. The United Kingdom operates a bus pass scheme limited to students and retired people—and in some cities to the unemployed when they are looking for work. They also have a subsidy scheme for fuel consumed by public transport vehicles. This however has no relation to income. In Wuhan, China, their subsidy is related to income level. Permanent residents in the city, who are below the poverty line qualify for an income supplement.

Having looked at these examples from all over the world, it’s important to note that most of the interventions above require some level of formality which is a challenge in a city like Lagos where 70% of the economy is informal. Data plays an important role, which has allowed residents to receive discounted transport fares. In addition, subsidies are a solution to keeping fares affordable and service high when franchising routes.

Moreover, research has it that a large proportion of trips made by the poor are done by walking or cycling in many developing countries (particularly walking, for Lagos). Hence, many have proposed diverting transport subsidies towards the development of NMT infrastructure and encouraging walking and cycling by making them safer and more convenient. This makes urban transportation more inclusive and equitable. Fortunately, the Lagos State Government has developed an NMT policy and has allocated 40% of its transport budgetary allocation to NMT development in the state. Also, the state’s investments in the BRT scheme is a major step in the right direction even though this is presently grossly insufficient. Like Lagos, to further promote equity in terms of accessibility and mobility, thus effectively bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, cities like Addis Ababa and Nairobi are focusing on and investing in NMT.

Also as a solution, providing affordable housing in accessible areas of the city, i.e. in areas close to where the jobs and other urban services are would reduce sprawling and also contribute towards achieving affordable transport in the state by reducing the share of household budgets for transportation.

Other strategies that could help in achieving a more affordable transportation in Lagos are structural change in the sector; improved operational efficiency of the various transport modes, better focusing of interventions to assist the poor, and effecting institutional reform.


Written by Yinka Jones and Venessa Williams 

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