DANFOS DISMISSED

Nigeria 2018 | TRANSPORT | FOCUS: BUS REFORM

Wheels on the Danfo buses will no longer go round and round as new minibuses hopefully herald in the beginning of transit reform in Lagos.

Nigerian-American author Teju Cole captures the essence of buses in Lagos: “The energies of Lagos life—creative, malevolent, ambiguous—converge at bus stops.” More tangibly, also converging on these bus stops are the Danfo buses, bright yellow minibuses that chaotically connect the sprawling metropolis stretched across the mainland as well as several islands. Another signifier of Lagos' kinetic energy, CNN pegs Lagos at number three in its list of the world's most stressful cities. Simultaneously a symbol of Lagos life, one source of the stress is transport. The average Lagosian commutes seven hours a day.

Coordinating mobility is no easy task in a city the size and geography of Lagos. Already mentioned were the several pieces of land that make up the city, including Lagos Island, Victoria Island, Snake Island, and Tin Can Island, separated by various lagoons, bays, and other waterways. These various bodies of water are in fact how Lagos received its name, which is Portuguese for lake. The National Population Commission of Nigeria puts the population at 21 million, making it the most populous city in Africa.
In March 2017, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode announced a proposal for bus reform to the tune of NGN30 billion (USD94.6 million). Upgrades to the Danfo buses are one part of Lagos' efforts to modernize bus transit in the city and throughout the state of Lagos as well as integrate several modes of transport. In total, 5,000 air-conditioned buses will replace the old, yellow vans. Over 70% of the new units will carry 30 people, and the remaining buses will have up to a 70-passenger capacity.
Maybe most importantly, the governor has been adamant that the more reliable buses will not push out Danfo drivers, as the funding scheme is set up to incorporate existing drivers, mechanics, and other union members. In a May Day celebration of workers, he went so far as to say the new blue and white minibuses would create even more jobs, making the dangerous promise of no job losses. The need for appropriate vehicle maintenance and opening of maintenance shops will generate the added jobs.
Against a NGN100-billion (USD315 million) public transportation bond, the Danfo replacement budget of NGN30 billion will be a sinking fund. A sinking fund, allows the issuer to pay back the principal incrementally, saving money by reducing interest payments. By retiring the bond incrementally, the state government is hoping to increase credibility.
In line with the national Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), which aims to privatize selected public assets, the state bus reform will also be open to private franchise. With a down payment of 25% of the cost of the buses, attracted stakeholders can invest in a set quantity of buses. It is through franchise that the government is claiming benefits for current Danfo drivers. Governor Ambode expects the transport unions to participate in this scheme. The government is prepared to provide buses and training for labor leaders to implement the reforms.
But the governor's new buses have drawn intense backlash. Many wonder if the new buses are anything more than just a superficial facelift for the archaic Danfos. The modern buses will be more environmentally friendly, but do not revolutionize transit systems in the intensely congested mega city.
While the upgraded buses will not be a revolutionary mass transit system, Governor Ambode is pushing them as a stepping-stone in that direction. With increased capacity per bus, the new ones will help reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, easing congestion. Whether the blue and white editions of the Danfo minibuses truly provide a structured, more organized system remains to be seen. At the very least, the updated buses should be more reliable, mechanically speaking, and should reduce congestion caused by breakdowns.
The real question to be asked though: do shiny new buses make for a true mega city, and are there more structural reforms in the pipeline for genuine connectivity?