The coming ‘Danfo’ war

Many had hoped against hope for it. Many would swear it could never happen. Many were optimistic that the day was near. Yet, everybody agreed they are the “kings” of the road in Lagos. Their days appeared numbered but they won’t go down without a fight as discovered by NAZA OKOLI, AYOMIDE OWONIBI-ODEKANYIN, TOLA ADENUBI, CHIMA NWOKOJI and LANRE ADEWOLE.

 

Every city has its own landmarks. The commercial capital of the most populous black nation on earth, Lagos, is not an exception. Even though the metropolis boasts of many important monuments spread across its mainland and island, the commercial yellow bus (widely known as ‘danfo’) has come to form part of the city’s very nature, colour and character. But that may not be the case anymore. Lagos roads won’t be “yellow” again soon, with the surprise declaration, on Monday, by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, that there are plans to rid the city of its famous yellow buses, consigning them to the rubbles of history.

“It would not be like Lagos, anymore,” Chudi Obum, a student at the Lagos State University, Ojo, lamented.

 

Playing to the gallery?

The executive declaration by the governor, according to the Saturday Tribune findings, won’t go unchallenged, though the coming ‘danfo’ war may not be the conventional open war. Insider information revealed what could be termed as politics and power-play in the announcement. Sources accused the governor of probably playing to the gallery to satisfy certain interests, by engaging in premature announcement of what was supposed to be an on-going plan to arrive at a comprehensive transportation policy, to be implemented in phases for many years to come. It was also gathered that the announcement by the governor had deepened the confusion in the sector, concerning the engagement of the yellow buses in the state transportation system, considering that they are the most popular, easily accessible, most available and cheapest mode of transportation in the city.

Government sources however debunked the notion of the announcement coming out too early, with a senior executive disclosing that all what the governor did was to put Lagosians and other stakeholders on early notice.

 

‘Danfo’ politics?

Saturday Tribune also learnt that the ‘danfo’ controversy did not start with the Ambode administration. “It started with Fashola. But even the ‘molue’ that (former Governor Raji) Fashola banned is still operating in some parts of Lagos. So, even if ‘danfo’ is banned, it won’t completely disappear from Lagos”, an insider disclosed.

Even with the governor’s declaration, insiders claimed that a total ban may not be a reflection of what stakeholders are close to agreeing on. A knowledgeable source confirmed that talks among stakeholders have been centered on certain initial agreements which include; changing the colour of all public transportation vehicles in the state, including ‘danfo’ to shades of blue which has been officially adopted as the state’s colour, considering its aquatic nature and the understanding that water is blue in cloud; compelling ‘danfo’ drivers and conductors to be wearing uniform for proper identification to avoid one-chance incidents; stopping conductors from hanging on the doorway of the yellow buses, with the doors ajar; limiting ‘danfo’ appearances to feeder roads and; getting bigger buses to ply the major roads in the metropolis.

But while the issues looked straight from the outside, same cannot be said of the inside. With many government officials said to be patrons and owners of many of the yellow buses, the inside of Ambode’s government is reportedly not pleased with the announcement by the governor which is allegedly at variance with what they thought they know. “The little from it (‘danfo’ business) is what we use in augmenting our salaries. Oga (governor) should not do this o”, one of them enthused.

Since Fashola’s days, certain issues are said to have remained contentious among the stakeholders. One of the controversies, it was said, is the disagreement on who among the stakeholders would be in charge of selling uniforms to ‘danfo’ drivers and conductors. Another is said to be how “inner” would be the feeder roads ‘danfo’ would be consigned to and how the longer buses being projected to replace ‘danfo’ would look like and their acquisition.

While government is reportedly hooked on its idea of reducing traffic at all costs with multi-dimensional policies, stakeholders are also said not to be agreeing on whether or not there should be classification of public transport, which could encourage the elite to abandon their cars at home for buses befitting their status.

A transportation expert pointed out that “classification would greatly help to decongest the roads. Imagine the number of cars that would be off the road if a clean and air-conditioned 45-passenger bus is deployed between Ikeja and Island”.

While it has been mum at the National Union of Road and Transport Workers (NURTW) since the governor’s announcement, tension had been obvious inmotor parks across the state. Even while the transporters have not been speaking, their body language has been suggesting “won’t let go easily”.

 

Will the road be blue again?

It is still unclear what kinds of buses would be used to replace the legendary ‘danfo’, though many believe that BRT and the ongoing light rail system would serve the purpose. But even this option, many envisaged, would be besotted by myriads of problems if the yellow buses would indeed be completely removed from the roads this year.

The issues raised by residents who spoke with Saturday Tribune during the week were many. For example, many wondered if there would be adequate supply of buses to attend to the ever-increasing number of residents in the state. There were also some concerns about maintenance, especially given the deplorable state of many of the existing BRT buses.

 

BRT: Between the road and the graveside

In 2002, part of the World Bank’s $35 million grant to the Lagos State government in pursuit of the mega-city project was used to find solutions to the challenges of public transport system. It was invested in the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which took off between 2008 and 2009.

When the BRT was introduced as a means of transportation on the streets of Lagos, practically replacing another “yello” molue, it was the cynosure of all eyes as many of the vehicles were shipped in brand new and many vehicle users had to park their vehicles at home for a ride on the newly-introduced buses’ just to catch a glimpse of the alluring interior of the popular long bus.

INSET: Governor Akinwunmi Ambode

However, years after it blazed the trail in road transportation in Lagos, many of the BRT buses are now a shadow of themselves as many are looking rickety with a few others nearing their graves. Ironically, a lot of them are already buried in various ‘graves’ scattered across the state. One of such spots can be seen at the Odo Iya Alaro area between Maryland and Ojota where the number of the dead BRT buses has continued to grow.

One of the mechanics working around the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, pointed out that the buses were usually sold as scraps. “The buses are matched against each other and anyone of them that has functioning parts is removed and the buses are coupled and resold”, he added.

Curiously, a lot of money has been invested by both the government and its private sector partners to ensure the maintenance of the vehicles. According to the Director of Public Transport, Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), Gbenga Dairo, the operators themselves entered into agreement with the vehicle suppliers to make sure that the suppliers conduct preventive maintenance on a regular or daily basis.

“So, the management of BRT pays them (the vehicle suppliers) an agreed sum everyday for this particular service. Again, there is a process in place to engage the vehicle suppliers who have brought a technical team down to Nigeria, not only to establish workshop but to also train and guide some Nigerian citizens to be able to conduct necessary maintenance and carry out safety measures on the operations of the vehicles”, he said.

The LAMATA Director of Public Transport said the agreement was entered into based on an understanding that the private sector had the speed, the expertise and experience to handle all the challenges that would affect their businesses, adding that the maintenance culture adopted by those handling the BRT project was good because they spent a lot of time and energy on maintenance.

 

No longer at ease

No doubt, the BRT buses are designed to make passengers comfortable. Indeed, in many instances, BRT users are seen in long queues, even where yellow buses are available.

“Initially, it was comfortable”, said Mrs Oyinu who lives at Egbeda. “But from my end now, it is difficult to get one that is not full. That means, if you want BRT, then you must stand. When you are standing, people are pushing you. You won’t enjoy the journey at all. That is why we still use ‘danfo’, because no matter what happens you must sit down”, she added.

Others who spoke with Saturday Tribune echoed the same thoughts, frowning, especially, on situations where the buses are “filled to the brim,” with passengers “hanging on the doors”; while recalling also the “good old days” when the doors were automated.

Only two months ago, precisely a couple of weeks to the end of 2016, a BRT bus was reportedly razed while in transit on the Third Mainland Bridge. Even though the cause of the fire was not known, many attributed it to lack of adequate maintenance.

Also speaking with Saturday Tribune on the state of the buses, another regular user who identified himself as Tunji Bello, explained that some of the buses allegedly no longer acknowledge the ticketing arrangement as a means of payment.

“Before now, when I boarded BRT buses on my way to work on the Island, I didn’t have any problem with payment since I would simply queue to purchase tickets before embarking on my journey. But nowadays, I need to be careful not to spend money twice because some of the buses no longer acknowledge the ticket.

“Many of the overloaded BRT buses, most especially the Red Buses, no longer acknowledge the tickets. They now have conductors, mostly females. Again, many of the BRT buses are filled to the brim, with passengers hardly having a place to stand inside the buses. My friends and I now call them ‘glorified molues’ because they remind one of the days of the ‘molues’. Inside this BRT buses, it is tug of war to stay clean from dirt, even when somebody is trying to look clean for work on a Monday morning”, he said.

Another user, Angela Okwuashi said, “Some of the dilapidated BRT buses have very bad windows. When it rains, passengers sitting beside the windows get wet. I have been a victim of this and it was not funny. It is that bad being on board this very rickety BRT buses.”

 

Megacity!

A major reason cited by Governor Ambode for the planned ban of yellow buses is the need to transform Lagos into a true megacity.

The governor said on Monday, “When I wake up in the morning and see all the yellow buses, okadas and all kinds of tricycles, I feel that the claim that we are a megacity is not true. We must acknowledge that it is faulty connectivity that we are running. We have to look for a solution and that is why we want to banish yellow buses this year. We must address the issue of connectivity that makes people move around with ease, and that is where we are going.”

When BRT buses began operation in 2008, Nigerians in Lagos had no doubt that the Fashola administration had found what seemed then a decent way to temporarily address the problem of mass transit system in the state. But, barely nine years after its introduction, the glory seems to be fast fading away.

With the planned removal of the yellow buses, Lagosians must hope that the new system would not only be adequate and effective, but must also serve to enrich the culture and identity of Africa’s largest city.

A top official of the Lagos State chapter of NURTW who spoke with Saturday Tribune under the condition of anonymity said “consultation is still on between the two transport unions (NURTW and the Road Transport Employees Association of Nigeria, RTEAN) and officials of the Lagos State government. «What we are discussing now is that our buses will be allowed to ply the federal roads and the service lanes, like it is done along the Ikorodu Express Way”, he said, adding that plans were in the offing to change the colour of the commercial buses from yellow to a new one that has not been decided upon.


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