Transport in Lagos: Between building and banning



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By Olamide Udo-Udoma

cable car in Caracas

I have found myself increasingly reliant on the public transport facilities in Lagos recently. The reason for this is I have a car, which is very low, and thus does not fare well on the bad Lagos roads with potholes, irregular speed bumps, and the likes. My never-ending visits to my mechanic after a week’s journey to work led to my serious consideration of other transport alternatives particularly on the days when my car is at the mechanic’s yet again.

Taxis are too expensive to rely on regularly, and so I have taken the Lagos public buses on some occasion. However, it has come with its challenges also, as there are the never ending queues, long waiting times, ill-maintained buses, traffic-ridden roads, and the disregard of traffic rules by the drivers.

Lagos State Government and funders are trying to address these issues with the Lagos Urban Transport Project (LUTP), which is now in its second phase. The project draws from best practice in Bogota (Colombia) and Curitiba (Brazil) – where transport projects have been praised for affordability, innovation and their contribution to the sustainable development of the respective cities.

The first phase of the project focuses on the introduction of four new modes of transport – Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), water transport, rail, and cable car. These modes are favourable ways to reduce congestion and air pollution. The second phase is a continuation of the first but with an emphasis on institutional development and the improvement of infrastructure and road networks.

The BRT, first introduced in 2008, offers high capacity rapid transit services that run on designated traffic free lanes on the two main Lagos corridors. It is a PPP (Public Private Partnership) project, where Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) provides the infrastructure and the private sector operator procures the buses and manages the operations and maintenance. Although the BRT boasts its success in saving commuters the time and money spent on travel by about 20 percent, and the creation of 500,000 jobs, the scheme has failed to meet the exceedingly high demand of commuters, which unfortunately leaves many, stranded. LAMATA plans to expand the BRT to eight different strategic corridors within Lagos State as well as expand the fleet on current routes.

waiting at a brt bus stop

Waiting at a BRT bus stop in Lagos

LAMATA is promoting water transport as an alternative to road based transport. This should free up road congestion, especially at peak times. Seven corridors have been identified for development and three routes are operational. The ferry services positively impact on travel times and pollution. Similar to the other transport modes Lagos State is partnering with the private sector by providing infrastructure, while private companies provide the ferries and manage the operations and maintenance. Though more expensive than road transport, commuters use it because it saves time. However, they still complain that the ferry service is unreliable and the fleet is not adequate for the number of users.

Unlike the BRT and water transport the Lagos Urban Rail Network (LURN) is not functioning yet. LURN aims to run on seven priority and high commuter demand corridors within the Lagos Metropolis and further. The LURN system is integrated with planned and existing water transport and BRT routes. The construction of one corridor (the Blue Line Rail Project) commenced in August 2009 and can be seen going up from Mile 2. The proposed trains are environmentally friendly, Electric Multiple Units (EMUs). Expected to commence in 2014, it is estimated to carry 400,000 passengers daily. The PPP contract is the same as all other LAMATA managed transport systems.

The cable car is the latest addition to the project. It has been designed to support the LURN and BRT, running through areas that are not directly served by either. The cable car route will link Apapa with Lagos Island and Obalende/Ikoyi with Victoria Island.

As part of LUTP, LAMATA is also responsible for maintaining and improving the quality of roads. There are several road-widening schemes to increase the number of lanes to help reduce congestion as well as road reconstruction. It is visible that the main roads are being worked on but the day-to-day wear and tear is not taken in to account.

Other transport initiatives that are not included under the LUTP are the construction of a new airport (Lekki Airport) in Lagos and the 4thMainland Bridge. The concept design for the airport has been done and the land has been fenced in the South East of Lagos. The 4th Mainland bridge will help diffuse traffic congestion on the other bridges that link mainland Lagos with Lagos Island.

The LUTP is a commendable project that aims to overcome transport issues in Lagos State and benefit the population. However, while implementing the LUTP and introducing new public transport modes, other existing transport modes are being eliminated. As well as the BRT, Lagosians had the option of using “okadas” (commercial motorcycles), “molues” (44 seat buses), “danfos” (18 seat buses), “keke maruwas” (shared motorised tricycles) and taxis.

rail - blue line rail running along badagry expressway

Proposed rail in Lagos: the blue line rail running along Badagry Expressway

In the past year three modes of transport have been banned from Lagos streets. In October last year, okadas were banned from 475 roads including major highways and bridges. They provided a means of transport that mitigated the transport challenges in Lagos due to the chaotic traffic situation. They had a unique role in the transportation system because they could carry customers to places where other public transport could not reach. They were timesaving and flexible.

The second transport mode to be banned was the keke maruwa. In May 2013, Lagos State Government put in to practice a new transport law that banned the three-wheeled commercial taxis from a number of Lagos roads. The latest addition has been the molue. In September 2013, molues were banned from crossing any of the link bridges to Lagos Island and operating in the Central Business District. For years molues were the main mode of transport for commuters in the city despite their run-down state. Frequent passengers believe the banning of these transport modes are ‘anti-poor’ and do not take in to account the effect it will have on the less financially flexible residents of Lagos.

These restrictions on public transport have led to the fear that the State will ban these privately managed commercial transport modes, including the not yet banned danfo buses completely; removing them all from Lagos roads.

The General Manager of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) explained, during an interview that banning these modes of transport will ensure adequate monitoring of the operations of commercial vehicles and compliance with traffic rules and regulations. A lot of these vehicles, including the BRT are not well maintained and are dangerous, putting Lagosians at risk of injury and at times death. Solely from the government’s perspective, the banning of the less advanced transport systems should benefit Lagosians. The vision they have for the future of public transport looks promising, however the methods used under the word ‘development’ are yet to benefit the population or improve the transport system.

By banning major transport modes on major and minor routes, Lagosians have to walk longer distances. However, the needs of pedestrians are ignored. Footpaths and bicycle lanes are not given priority. People are forced to cross roads haphazardly and bicyclists have no option but to use the edge of the road or the pavement. The only recognition of pedestrians that is visible is the construction of overhead pedestrian bridges on highways and dual carriageways.


Lagosians are also faced with spending long hours at bus stops waiting for buses because alternative transport has not been provided and neither has the BRT fleet increased. This is worrying because it makes it apparent that authorities such as LAMATA are not planning for the future population of Lagos. It also demonstrates that the Lagos State ministries and parastatals are working in silos, which is detrimental to the growth of the city. As the managing authority of transport in Lagos, LAMATA needs to ensure that even though all public transport under its auspice are operated and maintained by private sector companies, they should all be integrated and managed to produce the expected outcomes.

The drivers affected by the ban of okadas, keke maruwas and molues have lost their means of livelihood and have not been provided with an alternative. Unemployment is rife in Lagos and this poses a big issue for the State and those who have lost their jobs abruptly. Uneducated and educated alike, ex-drivers have been unable to find employment elsewhere.

The price plans for the unfinished projects are yet to be determined. However, by taking example of the current ferry service, which is more expensive than using road transport, I imagine the rail and cable car will exceed that of the ferry. The ferry is a convenient service that boycotts sitting in traffic for long periods of time and has been described as worth the expense, however, I do fear that for the private sector to recover their costs they may charge an amount unaffordable for the majority of Lagos, and rendering it an elite transport system.

To increase ridership on public transport and move people out of private cars the new initiatives need to be attractive to car owners by catering to their needs.

It is evident the government, with the help of the private sector, is moving towards integrating development with transport, however what is being done is hindering the populous from living their lives. I am not faced with these issues on a daily basis, but what about those who do? What is being done to ensure that people who live in Lagos have an easy commute to places of work, play, health and back to their places of rest?


About FutureLagos

Olamide Udoma is a researcher, writer and filmmaker holding degrees in BSc Architecture, MA Design and MPhil Infrastructure Management. Olamide has worked in London, South Africa and Nigeria with various organisations focusing on transport management, slum upgrading and housing rights in urbanising African cities. At Our Future Cities NPO, she is the Lagos manager and editor.

There are 2 comments

  1. writerr

    Thanks for writing this article; very informative. There are always winners and losers when changes are made to systems (in this case transportation), but it seems that Lagos authorities are trying to make improvements.

    1. DraggNation

      Sustainable development (especially with transportation) in most urban cities around the world becomes successful with the support of selfless sacrifices by its dwellers and a proper understanding of delayed gratification. More so, in a complex city like Lagos, deprived of social development for many years and yet, arguably the most populous in Africa, uncomfortable change needs to be accepted to build a more viable future. Lagos is undoubtly profitable for all more as an urban centre than a rural area. Not everyone should expect being a resident can be afforded.

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