STEMMING THE TIDE OF LAGOS TRAFFIC WITH FUNCTIONAL THINKING AND MODERN TECHNOLOGY By TOSIN AYO.
It was a wet morning as I drove from the mainland through third mainland bridge to the Island where my office is located. Agony. Impatience. Frustration, chatter, insults and curses flowed freely as commuters outsmart and outdrive each other in a bid to get to work early that morning. Dangerous overtakes, car scratching, honking and hooting rented the air as cars outdo one another in the still flow or lack of it.
In Lagos traffic, you are not driving, but just sitting in your car like an anxious spectator. But then I observed the second lane had practically no vehicle driving against traffic. There were just a few splatters of vehicles descending from the Island route to the mainland via the third mainland bridge. This same mismatched, disproportionate, irregular and incommensurate distribution of vehicular flow characterizes the same route at close of work any time from 4pm when all the vehicles driven by people and commercial vehicles conveying workers returning from their places of business would be returning from the axis and a negligible number of vehicular flow would be seen on the other lane driving at cross lanes and purposes. This situation is typical of most routes in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria where traffic management is a recurrent debilitating issue.
It was then I began to ruminate and ask a few fundamental questions. Why do people live on the mainland and work on the Island? Why will Nigerians prefer to get an allegedly ‘cheap’ accommodation on the mainland only to spend the excess supposedly ‘saved’ in agony, strife, frustration, ill health, stress and loss of time and consequently money in traffic on fuel, car maintenance and loss of opportunities to mingle with a higher class of people? Is it not cheaper on the long run to live close to your workplace? Why would Nigeria in general and the Lagos state government through its Lagos state traffic management agency, LASTMA not think outside the restrictive perplexing box and find a lasting solution to the issue of unnerving, discomforting and frustrating lack of smooth vehicular flow of traffic on the roads which ultimately reduces human productivity, slows down the wheel of business and economic progress, castrates punctuality, imposes a strain on human life via consistent stress and tension, encourages in the traffic still robbery operation, threatens security of life and property, messes up fuel efficiency, enhances car accidents and injury? Why is the focus of LASTMA punitive rather than comfortingly rehabilitative?
In all the countries I have visited, nowhere is traffic as painfully gruesome and increasingly lethal like Nigeria’s Lagos. I honestly do not think Nigeria has more vehicles than these countries with manageable vehicular traffic- the difference lies in their vehicular control initiatives which we obviously lack. You often find Lagosians use an average of 6-8hours daily on the road en-route to and from their workplace daily- this is sheer waste of time and a lingering damage to efficiency. Some people live in Mowe, Ibafo, Ifo, Salolo, Ogun state and work on broad street, Marina or Victoria Island, Lagos and make the journey daily- how will such life not experience stress and heightened tension? All motion without movement accentuates one’s anger and frustration paradigm without caution. Little wonder Lagos is filled with nervous, hostile and angry people. This raises the sanity conundrum. It has no getting used to, but yielding into pain and accepting a deleterious condition as an unchangeable fate.
One effective way of combating this still flow of traffic on Lagos roads is by introducing the Monorail system. This simply means closing the alternate, opposing dual carriage way where there is little no vehicular flow within a certain period to let loose all the vehicles on the strained road in order to allow a free flow of traffic via passage of vehicles on both lanes for the heavy influx of vehicles where huge traffic is an issue to clear. How does this work? It begins with an awareness and enlightenment campaign- An intensive radio, Television and News dailies campaign will be made to all and sundry intimating them of the new road closure policy and a specified road routes’ directive made to commuters. For instance- ‘Third mainland bridge route from Island to the mainland only opens between 12am to 6am’- This is to enable whoever wants to descend from the Island to the mainland to do so before 6am and they are clearly in the minority. Road closed on the third mainland bridge from the Island to the mainland, but open to commuters in a mono movement from the mainland to the Island between 6:30am to 8:30am. This is to enable those going to work and their business place to have a field day using both dual carriage ways to work in order to ease traffic flow. The 30minutes allowance is to enable those who have ascended the bridge shortly before 6.00am to descend it and to accommodate time error before letting those ascending from the other side ascend it. There will be return to normal dual carriage arrangements after the allotted time. This is really needed as It is even saner and more plausible to live on the Island and work on the mainland to experience no traffic congestion than otherwise.
Apart from the mass media campaign, a sign post of the road restrictions and instructions showing ‘Do not enter after 6am’ on one side and ‘Do not enter after 8:30am’ on the other side should equally be mounted. This system isn’t foolproof at inception and a few new drivers, right claiming car owners, uninformed vehicle users, recalcitrant and stubborn commuters might enter the ‘new one way’ arrangement, but we will get used to it. This mono-road arrangement will also take into consideration the bends, out-maneuver and eventual out route of vehicle users’ destination on the Island as some routes go to Ikoyi, some straight to Marina and some to Victoria Island. A similar time-bound road entry and exit restriction will be drafted for close of work in the reverse order to ease flow of traffic using the roads of those driving against traffic to ease off the traffic situation. Anyone going to the Island from the mainland or vice versa will therefore do so within those times not under road restrictions. This will be replicated in routes where one part of the dual carriage way occasions mild driving against traffic for such crucial times. This will go a long way in bringing about the needed traffic management succor- It has worked in many countries of the world, it can work here If only we are willing.
Another veritable traffic-control mechanism is the introduction of Congestion tax. This simply means adding an additional taxation burden on road users and private car owners to reduce congestion and in a bid to discouraging them from putting their vehicles on the road indiscriminately especially when it is needless and where public transport would do. The United Kingdom has arguably the best transportation system in the world- one reason most of their residents and inhabitants do not all put their vehicles on the road is to avoid their equivalent of congestion tax. Any nation whose citizens can afford to have 5-10 functional vehicles isn’t fully maximizing its tax potentials. From charges to park, toll gates’ fare and MOT, no one will advise a car owner to park it and use public transport sometimes. This must equally be reinforced with a functional, comfortable and efficient public transport system. What every sane human being requires is a comfortable access to infrastructure, not necessarily owning their own infrastructure. This is the marked difference between the developed and the developing world. If the Lagos BRT were as standard as First Bus or Mega Bus, many car owners in Nigeria will prefer using them to work and to their destinations to driving to work.
Our conceptualization of ‘owning and driving your own car’ as conclusive proof of ‘Bigmanism’ isn’t helping matters as well. I still don’t see any other nation where owning a car is deemed a final proof of social status symbol other than Black nations of Africa. A situation where a couple working close to each other but both driving separate cars to work is a classic case of waste per excellence. Some neighbours and co-tenants who work in the same establishment too would be forced to synergize and drive a car rather than driving separate cars to work. This drastically reduces the burden on the roads and ultimately reduces traffic congestion whilst also generating revenue for road building and maintenance into the purse of the government.
It is not uncommon to find trailers and trucks carrying heavy duty containers falling on the roads in Lagos and causing serious traffic congestion. Apart from the several regrettable but avoidable deaths caused by this avoidable scourge, the traffic gridlock it engenders renders it unfashionable. The Federal and State Ministry of Transport in Collaboration with The Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC and other stakeholders must fashion out ways of doing these things differently by enforcing stringent safety standards either by ensuring that all trailers and trucks carrying containers be bound with Container chains, hook and fork lift screw fastened to the basement to avoid an imminent somersault, the Ministry of Works and the Federal Roads Management Agency, FERMA must patch all the gullies and massive booby traps on our roads where these large vehicles fall regularly like a mighty rain thereby endangering lives and property and causing traffic flowlessness. Defaulters should also be prosecuted, sanctioned, fined and imprisoned to serve as deterrence to others with no allowable sacred cows. In the long run, it will not be out of place to either give heavy trucks their own lanes or make them pliable only at night for obvious reasons.
In a similar vein, a noticeable ill causing traffic commotion on our roads is the prevalence of oil tankers on the overburdened roads. This is 2015- 21st century and we can’t afford to be living like ancients existing in caves! Which part of the world still heavily relies on road haulage for distribution of PMS, DPK and AGO? Maybe Nigeria. It’s simply absurd to still live in the pre-medieval times. A situation where tankers have to queue endlessly for oil supply at Refineries and/or tank farms to obtain fuel for onward distribution to filling stations seem very analogue in this digital age. Little wonder there is often perennial fuel crisis, fuel shortage and tanker fire accidents without a reprieve in sight occasioned largely by our thoughtlessness, laziness of innovation and unforgivable resistance to change. An efficient Pipelines transport system with Naval officers’ support to prevent sabotage and pipeline vandalism will cure this malady once and for all. If transparent, monitorable Pipelines from a digital control room are laid from production sites (Refineries and tank farms) to distribution points, it will reduce the stress on our roads, enhance human productivity, reduce the risk of having highly combustible and extremely inflammable fuel contents on our roads through long distances inter states, increase the volume of transportable fuel, ease traffic flow and increase fuel chain supply mechanism.
Having 1500 fully loaded trucks of fuel on the from Warri to Kano to supply fuel when a single anti-corrosion, thick panel pipeline would have sufficed is needless. Proper monitoring from a digital control base will be mounted to detect any external militant or vagrant attacks. A collaboration with identified highly placed militants for pipeline protection when the Navy is not on vacation seems an invitation to anarchy, promotion of lawlessness and an encouragement of future evil practice for pecuniary benefits. More personnel recruitment, technological capacity training of naval staffers, enhanced corporate social responsibility and incentivisation for host oil communities, a robust environmental restoration package cum environmental degradation repair, an all-inclusive Amnesty initiative for militants and security surveillance from post to post would also not be out of place to prevent incessant vandalism.
It is imperative that those in positions of authority deliberately take responsibility, regularly brainstorm, harness functional and practicable ideas and reach out to those who know in their endeavour to reposition uncomfortable state of affairs for the citizenry and herald a more livable nation for Nigerians.
Tosin Ayo is a Nigerian Legal Practitioner, Researcher, Author, Social commentator and Public Affairs Analyst.