By Paul Effiong
The critical role played by the transport sector to the socio-economic development of any country cannot be over-emphasized.Road transport plays an important role in the economy such as ours where other modes of transportation are underdeveloped. It is no longer news that the Nigerian transport sector is continually in shambles despite its enormous contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). No wonder the sorry state of this crucial sector even as several efforts in the past and present have yielded not much result probably due to government lack of interest and substantial support hence its continuous struggle for survival from one government to another.
An urgent need for support to this key sector has become imperative as government, corporate bodies and spirited Nigerians must rise above board to ensure a collective support for the transport sector in the country because such a move is not just timely but also necessary for the sector to move forward as well as live up to its established mandate in order to salvage most of the problems associated with poor management in the country.
It will be recalled that before the advent of long buses in Abuja popularly known as El-rufai buses in the territory most commuters in the FCT used to pay heavily to greedy transporters and vehicle owners who regularly extort money from members of the public as they had no alternative but to patronize the Kabu-Kabu taxis and their bus counterparts that delighted in fare inconsistency coupled with lack of harmonized fare regulations in the territory.
In 2006, when the first batch of Urban Mass Transit buses arrived the territory, most residents were happy as their transport fare then and now has drastically been reduced for the common interest of the ordinary and common people in the city due to these Urban Mass Buses.
However, there is still a lot for government at all levels to do regarding transport management in the country and in FCT in particular.For instance, our transport managers should endeavour to peep through records of other countries of the world to see how such developed countries manage and run this very important sector not just for profit but more importantly to ensuring an efficient day to day operation of the city in addition to the fulfilment of their state given mandate to the people especially the ordinary man on the streets.
Findings have proven that in the developed world, premium is being placed on transport systems for its role in the movement of both people, goods and services to areas of critical need. One of such is an effective, efficient and scheduled Mass Transit system which should be properly arranged to cover all parts of the city and should be accessible to all and sundry be they mighty and the low in the society, and must be meaningfully subsidized to ensure affordability and convenience among others.
For instance, in Nigeria our road transport sector which is the most accessible mode of transportation is left in the hands of private operators who oppress the poor masses through exorbitant transport fares with no one regulating such prices. This has greatly affected free flow of transport system in the country as most operators regularly hike their transport fare at will with the attendance risk to quality services as money is often placed by these operators above effectiveness, efficiency, human comfort and convenience.
Again, this has impacted negatively on the ordinary or common man with low income unlike those of the advanced countries of the world where government makes policies such as subsidies on transport systems to accommodate people of low income.
It is interesting to know too, that in some advanced and developed countries of the world, mass transits is being subsidized as well as scheduled so that it becomes extremely attractive to even those who operate private cars thereby causing them to cut down their use of cars thereby reducing unnecessary congestion.
Let’s take the case of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for instance, this body which is commonly known as ‘WMATA’ or Metro is a tri-jurisdictional government agency authorized by the congress in that country. According to findings, WMATA operates transit services in the Washington metropolitan area including the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland. The agency operatesas a public corporation that covers the whole of circulator bus system in that state with its own police agency under the Metro Transit Police Department.
According to information, while fares and advertising cover the majority of Metro’s annual budget, significant funding is contributed by each jurisdiction that it serves as well as by the states of Maryland, Virginia and the United States. Fares and other revenue fund 57.6% of daily operations while states and local government fund the remaining 42.4%.
Again in England for example passengers pay less for their fare, this is so because government pays subsidy per passenger journey which means easy access for the public.However according to investigations, this could increase as a result of reductions in population density in the most heavily subsidized services many of which are in rural areas which would be unserviceable without public subsidy.
We commend the current Minister of FCT, Mohammed Bello for maintaining the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company as this sector has brought a lot of succor to FCT residents who commute from their suburb to the central Business District for business transaction of one form or another as well as journey from their place of abode to offices.
While advising the Federal Government to encourage scheduled and efficient mass transit services in the whole country that might serve as palliative as well as additional fare cut, this may affect most people positively as they definitely will see this as divine gesture from the government to the ordinary man.
The opportunity availed itself when the Federal Government decided to remove oil subsidy which did not benefit the ordinary Nigerian but the high and the mighty in the society hence it was necessary for government to have a coordinated approach which when fully implemented could benefit all Nigerians particularly the under-privileged.
Money accrued for subsidy removal should therefore be used to improve transport system as well as improve the health care sector for the common good of all Nigerians. This remains particularly important now than ever even as the whole country is facing hard economic times that has continuedto bite harder.
Simple common sense should convince us that a single Urban mass transport vehicle here in the territory can convey a total of 60 persons at a go, ten of such long buses may as well convey a total of about 600 persons conveniently which may reduce the negative effect of gridlock, go slow and general congestion among our roads specially during the rush hours.
It would be recalled that the Abuja Urban Mass transits recently went off road because of the strike action in the establishment, during this period many commuters had to contend with several hike in transport fares by private vehicle owners who consistently and regularly hiked transport fares subjecting ordinary Nigerians to what they did not bargain for, while greater number of people who were not able to cope or cough out such money owing to exorbitant transport fares had no alternative than to resort to footing transport service.
Again, the minister must be commended for his swift response to the outcry of most FCT residents thereby taking all the necessary steps to ensuring that the high capacity vehicles returned to their different routes in order to ameliorate the already suffering plight of the common man who were already fed up by the unregulated transport system by private vehicle owners in the territory.