THE present state of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) fleet is a cheerless commentary on the nation’s poor maintenance attitude to public utilities and it best illustrates the often-touted truth that government could be bad managers in business.
Barely six years after Lagos commuters expressed relief with the introduction of the BRT scheme, many of the bright red and blue buses have been badly altered and left to deteriorate into first-grade Molues – the rickety buses infamously referred to as a ‘moving morgue’.
The scheme became operational on March 17, 2007. Currently there are two operators – the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) Cooperative and the LAGBUS. While LAGBUS buses are painted in red, the franchise of the scheme controlled by the NURTW is in blue; and both are regulated by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA).
In the beginning, it was the best thing to have happened to the horrendous transport system in the state with add-on benefits that included competitive cost, promptness and convenience. Commuters hop into the crisp buses with tickets having no worries about gridlock, since there is a dedicated route for buses to speed on.
Other convenience package include ban on hawking, preaching and smoking on board, while standing or loitering on the aisle was discouraged by operators.
In all, 220 buses were on the road and took thousands of passengers daily. The bus shelters at the bus stops and the scheme’s garages, housing maintenance bay, fuel dump, offices and other critical facilities, were splendid.
Most people, especially passengers, who have had it rough with the Molue and Danfo buses, applauded the scheme. However, six years is a long time to preserve this cherished legacy. The allure that once made vehicle owners to ditch their cars for a pleasurable ride is lost.
Barely a month after the state government commenced the use of e-ticketing and the e-card, known as the Lagos Connect card, commuters have started faulting the government on the bad state of the machines the card would be tapped on.
A regular commuter of the scheme, Nelson Boboye, said he wanted to board a BRT bus from Barracks bus-stop to Victoria Island, but that as he was about tapping his card on the machine, the pilot rudely told him to get down and wait for another BRT vehicle that had a functioning machine.
Another incident occurred last weekend at Fadeyi bus stop, when a passenger joined a BRT bus. On entering the bus, the tap-to-pay machine wasn’t working and both the pilot and ticketer sharply told the old man to get down and await another bus with a functioning machine.
These avalanche of complaints crudely defeats the aim of introducing e-ticketing, which authorities say was to conform with the cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Investigation by The Guardian on the causes of the shortcomings showed that the neglect of success factors, which mega-transport companies like Lagbus and BRT ought to take seriously, was responsible.
A group of aggrieved members of the staff, who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity at the company’s premises at Ojota, pinpointed lack of maintenance of the buses and failure to look into the issue of workers welfare by the management.
The most senior of the aggrieved workers said: “How can a management that does not care about the workers think of maintaining vehicles?
“The staff are not happy to do their job. Most of them have been on the same salary level for seven years now that the company came into existence without promotion. Whereas the salaries of the managers are fabulous and kept in guarded secret, those of the drivers and others remain the same with an average driver’s take home package being N45,000 a month.
“Having been on that poor pay level for seven years with no hope for a better future, most of the workers are disillusioned and discouraged with the work.”
Another worker disclosed that the managers of the buses do not mean well for the companies in view of the way and manner they swindle their employers.
For example, he said, the two trucks that were acquired some years ago for towing buses that break down to the yard have been hired out to a private operator. And now what obtains, is that, if any of the buses breaks down, a different tow van would be hired from operators who are related to key members of management at a cost of N20,000 or N30,000. And on the average, 10 to 15 buses are towed daily.
According to them, in spite of the many buses in the fleet of the companies, there is no vehicle maintenance workshop or hanger with specially trained mechanics.
“All the idle trucks in the premises are wasting away. Huge amounts of money are charged by external auto repair companies on minor repairs that ordinarily would not have cost so much if done in-house.
“How do you expect the companies to survive on such expensive maintenance culture?” one of the workers said.
On the contaminated fuel that is ruining the buses, a worker, who pleaded anonymity, said the management of the corporations, for reasons known to them alone, contracted only one firm, to be the sole supplier of diesel for the buses.
“No matter the high price charged by that company as against the lower price prevailing in the market, the management would insist that only the appointed supplier does the supply,” he remarked.
“BRT and Lagbus ought have their fuel depot and special treatment equipment to purify diesel for use by the large number of buses in their fleets if they really mean well.”
A consultant to the firms, Mr. Peter Taiwo, who is the Managing Director, ADMAGS Environmental, said LAGBUS could save 30 per cent on running cost if it could solve the problem of contaminated fuel.
According to him, “it is not that LAGBUS is not doing enough oil and filter changes at the appropriate intervals, the issue is that a lot of these engine designs are not made for the Nigerian environment. Nigerian environment is harsh on engines and if you do not bring in additional inputs that compensate for this harshness, these engines will not run as long as they ought to.”
Chidi Anyaegbu, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Chisco Transport Limited, who fielded questions on the secret behind Chisco Transport success said:
“You cannot manage transport business successfully without having your own mechanics and workshop which is the heart of the business.”
Though Fashola has given the assurance at the Oshodi parley that: “We are trying to bring back all the buses that are not on the road because each bus that is not on the road means that one bus captain and one pilot are not at work,” the workers implored him to do more than that.
They appealed to him to create a regular communication channel between him and the workers to tell him the bitter truth about what the management is doing that is undermining efficient operation of the buses. They stressed that the management is not sincere to the workers, government and to the teeming Lagosians who use the buses.