London Underground Victoria Line trains run from Walthamstow in the north of the city to Brixton in the south, leaving every 2 minutes at 16 stations covering 21km. This represents an average of 60 trains per hour for 19 hours a day and 24 hours on weekends. 200 million passenger trips are made on the line each year (more than half a million passenger trips per day). Victoria Line is just one of 11 such underground lines operating in London, covering 402 km and serving 272 stations in total. The London Underground, also known as the Tube, which started in 1863, is said to handle up to five million passenger journeys a day. At peak times, more than 543 trains are reported to run through the capital’s metro.
The Tube is not the only public transport system operating in London. There are also London buses famous for their red colors which started their services in the 19th century and currently comprise a fleet of around 9,300 vehicles operating on 675 routes served by 50 coach stations and over 19,000 bus stops. There is also the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) which began operations in 1987 and operates driverless and computerized trains stopping at 45 stations and comprising 149 vehicles, many of which operate in 3-car formation. There is the London Overground which was launched in 2007 and covers 112 stations on six routes. Then there are Transport for London (TfL) rail services running west at Heathrow Airport to Liverpool Street in the centre. There are also the trams which started in the first half of the 20th century and which currently operate at 12 trams per hour. Water transport on the Thames is also available at eight quays. The London Dial-a-Ride is a free door-to-door service for people with disabilities who cannot use public transport. A network of circular lanes and passable streets is also being developed to encourage more people to cycle or walk with the aim that by 2041, 80% of journeys in London will be made by bicycle, on foot and by public transport. Additionally, there are private services such as taxis, private hire like Uber, and coaches.
The well-developed public transport system described above serves 9 million people in London. It is the same population with Lagos Nigeria. Kano and Ibadan each have nearly 4 million inhabitants. Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Benin City and Maiduguri have all crossed the million mark and are heading towards 2 million inhabitants. These Nigerian cities lack even a fraction of the organized public transport system that serves London’s 9 million people. Nigerian commuters are daily thrown under the bus and reduced to riding motorbikes (called okada), tricycles (called keke), rickety buses and other vehicles or even resorting to multi-mile treks while being exposed to rain, sun and other elements in a very dehumanizing way. conditions that lower the dignity of the human person.
Economic losses due to poor/unavailability of organized public transport in Nigeria
Nigeria’s successive governments at the federal, state and local levels have ignored public transport, with serious economic consequences. Nigerian citizens have had to endure harrowing experiences of commuting daily from their homes (usually on the outskirts of cities) to the towns where their jobs are and to face the same nightmarish journeys on their way home after work was closed. The most notorious of these traffic hotspots are the Mararaba/Nyanya axis running in and out of the federal capital of Abuja and the daily commute between the mainland and the island in the commercial city of Lagos.
These monstrous traffic jams that commuters endure on a daily basis cause severe economic losses such as failing health of commuters resulting from stress and fatigue which in turn aggravate instances of absenteeism and consequent high healthcare costs. The cost of fuel is also high, as journeys that normally should not exceed 30 minutes last several hours in traffic jams. Hours of work are lost, the environment is damaged by pollution from the exhaust pipes of thousands of stationary vehicles, most with old engines, damage to vehicles requiring repair/maintenance costs high, accidents with casualties and fatalities, delays in business meetings, supply chain bottlenecks, high costs of moving goods that are built into the final prices borne by consumers, thereby causing increased inflation. These are some of the avoidable economic costs of not implementing an efficient public transit system for our urban centers.
To make matters worse, Nigerian governors are obsessed with building airports that end up underutilized. Funds for these white elephant airport projects will be better applied to building rail transport, the globally recognized best form of mass transport, as London has grown over time. The push by the Lagos government to complete the twin rail lines – red and blue lines – is a breath of fresh air in the approach to public transport and it is hoped that other states will copy and start implementing rail projects in their states. A light rail project, for example, will cost a fraction of the money wasted at airports and will transport millions of passengers daily with an adequate return on investment, safe and comfortable travel and many more jobs created than any which airport.
1 The Buhari government has turned a deaf ear to all the advice offered over the last 7 years of government and it is unlikely that anything will change with the remaining year which is now all about politics. This column will therefore focus on setting the agenda for incoming governments at all levels in 2023.
2 The federal government in 2023 must take immediate action to initiate constitutional change to move rail transportation from the exclusive list of the constitution to the concurrent list to pave the way for full privatization of the rail sector with the dual objective of providing comfortable, affordable services and safe means of public transport and the creation of quality jobs.
3 An efficient and effective public transport system will help achieve the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – (1) No poverty, (3) Good health and well-being, (8) Decent work and economic growth , (9) Industry, Innovation and infrastructure, (10) Reducing inequalities, (11) Sustainable cities and communities, (12) Responsible consumption and production, (13) Climate action, (15) Life on land. Public transport must therefore be a key priority for all governments at all levels from 2023 as Nigeria strives to achieve the UN SDGs!