Molue went away and nothing happened. Danfo is about going. Will Lagos miss the ‘king’? DAYO AYEYEMI writes.
There is no doubt that yellow commercial passenger buses, popularly called danfo, are ‘king’ of the roads in the Lagos metropolis. From Ketu to Ojota, Maryland, Ikorodu Road, Ojuelegba, Yaba, Costain, Iddi, Oyingbo and Lagos Island to CMS, Oshodi, Ikeja, Ogba, Agege, Obalende, Apapa, Orile, Iganmu, Mile 2, Okokomaiko, on the ever-busy Badagry Expressway and on the southern fringe of Ojodu, Iyana-Ipaja, Egbeda, Idimu and Ijegun, and other emerging satellite towns of the state, such as Alimosho and Abule-Egba, these yellow buses reign supreme from 5.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. every day.
But their days now appear numbered, going by plans by the Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration to undertake a transportation reform in the state with particular focus on the bus sector.
If the Bus Sector Initiative sails as planned, the yellow busses will be forced out of circulation, the same way the erstwhile Bolekaja lorry and the popular Molue, which were used in the 60s and early 2000, respectively for commercial passenger transportation in the metropolis, went.
With a renewed vigour to follow through with its transportation master plan for the umpteenth time, the state government has re-echoed its plans to implement every detail of the policy to make the state a 21st century mega and smart city.
The Commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederic Oladeinde, said the yellow buses would be replaced by blue buses. He explained that the new blue buses were more conducive for a mega-city like Lagos, in accordance with its transportation master plan.
Oladeinde disclosed this at a virtual forum, recently, adding that it was part of the efforts to reform the bus sector.
He said: “We are reforming the bus sector and over time, Lagos will phase out the yellow buses because the yellow buses are not conducive for a mega-city like Lagos. That is why we are coming with the blue buses you see around.” He added that the state would be partnering the private sector in the provision of public transport services, while deploying technology for the efficiency of the programme.
“We are inviting the private sector to participate in the provision of public transport services. We are also deploying technology just to ensure that we can up our game in terms of efficiency,” he said.
Already, most of the ongoing bus shelters in the state have been completed, followed by restriction of motorcycles and tricycles for commercial operation in some areas within the metropolis early 2020.
The commissioner said during a ministerial press briefing in 2020 that the ministry had identified 285 last-mile routes within the seven Bus Reform Initiative zones across Lagos, adding that it had developed bus specifications and shared same with potential bus manufacturers.
To seek the buy-in of yellow bus drivers, Saturday Tribune gathered that many stakeholders comprising top members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) are being engaged in meetings by the state government to pave the way for a seamless changeover to blue buses.
However, Saturday Tribune interaction with some of the drivers and owners of these yellow buses showed that many of them were yet to be properly briefed of the new development.
Some of the drivers and owners expressed the belief that it is going to be difficult for them to thrive in Lagos without driving their yellow buses, claiming they knew no other livelihoods. They were of the opinion that the government would be inviting trouble into the city if it attempted to phase out danfo/yellow buses as proposed.
According to them, yellow buses have been in Lagos from time immemorial, querying the interest of state government in their matter when they are not employees in the civil service.
“Lagos without the yellow buses? How Lagos go look like?” one of the yellow bus drivers in Berger Park who identified himself simply as Olaosebikan said. Olaosebikan told Saturday Tribune that most of the yellow bus drivers in the area were not aware of the new development, saying “our executives at the state level have not briefed our ogas here.”
He expressed uneasiness concerning the state government’s new bus sector reform, saying the authority was out to send yellow bus drivers into unemployment.
“We don’t even understand the state government again,” he lamented, saying this was not the promise made to them during electioneering by Sanwo-Olu as a candidate then.
“During the electioneering, most of the candidates seeking office will promise heaven and earth to make life better for commoners only to come with obnoxious policy later, wanting to snuff life out of us,” he said.
Olaosebikan pointed out that yellow bus drivers had not recovered from the introduction of Bus Rapid Transist (BRT) buses. He recalled that before the advent of the latter, some drivers plying Berger to Obalende used to go six trips per day but the opportunity ceased immediately BRT buses were introduced by former Governor Babatunde Fashola.
He said: “We can only struggle to go three trips for now. Operators of BRT buses have snatched our passengers. We, drivers of yellow buses and danfos have to wait a long time in the park before we can load. Do they want to snuff life out of us? What is wrong with yellow buses? Can’t we coexist with BRT buses instead of being totally phased out? This is what we have been using in Lagos more than 30 years.”
He reminded the government that yellow buses serve as a means of employment for many youths in the state. According to Olaosebikan, abrupt disengagement of these youths from where they get daily bread without integrating them into government’s plan on bus reform could be counterproductive.
‘I feed six children from danfo driving’
Speaking in an emotion-laden tone, another driver in Agege, Jimoh Alaye, said most drivers relied on money made from their buses to feed their families daily, disclosing that he had six children to feed and educate. He said he had not repaid a loan he secured from a cooperative society for the purchase of the bus was currently using.
“Two of my children that already graduated from higher institutions have not been able to secure employment. I still feed and take care of them from the proceeds of bus driving. Anyway, if the government wants us to leave and embark on farming, they should give us land and loan and we will go,” he said.
Another danfo driver who refused to disclose his identity was already nursing the fear that the blue buses might be too expensive for members of the NURTW. He explained that his current factory-used yellow bus was bought through hire purchase arrangement at the cost of N2.3 million, a payment which he claimed he was yet to complete.
“If the government wants us to key into the new blue bus initiative, it may cost N5 million. It will take us more than three years to complete the loan repayment,” he said.
Efforts to get the chairman of the state chairman of the NURTW, Alhaji Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Olu-Omo, to speak on the issue proved abortive as he could not be reached on phone.
However, in a recent report, a top official of the NURTW in the state advised the union members not to panic over the proposed ban on operations of yellow buses. He said the union was ready to cooperate with the state government on its mega-city project.
“We are still discussing with the government on the proposed ban on yellow buses and we believe it is going to yield a positive result. The union is ready to comply with the conditions of making the state a mega-city,” he said.
Many residents who spoke to Saturday Tribune were of the opinion that replacement of danfo and yellow buses in Lagos was overdue.
A certain Mrs Akingbade said she could not wait, adding that eradication of yellow buses as public transport would reduce gridlock and rid Lagos of indiscriminate parking to pick passengers which she said always leads to gridlocks on the roads.
Bunmi Fatimehin, a resident in Ikeja, said that a mega-city such as Lagos deserved a modern transportation model. According to her, rickety yellow buses, Keke Marwa and okada on Lagos skyline in the 21st century are an eyesore. She alleged that many passengers had been attacked by armed robbers parading themselves as bus drivers and okada riders in the metropolis, saying that verbal assaults on passengers by the drivers was another headache.
She said: “Waking up in the morning and seeing all these yellow buses, okada and all kinds of tricycles is annoying. We claim we are in a mega-city with these rickety buses? No. It does not add up. Something has to be done.”
Govt mum on ban date, cost
On claims by some drivers that they were not aware of the state government’s plan, Assistant Director, Public Affairs, in the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Mrs Bolanle Ogunlola, said it was not true, stating that danfo drivers and their owners were major stakeholders in the programme. She, however, did not disclose the actual date the programme would commence.
She explained that drivers and their employers had been briefed, while seeking their buy-in into the massive Lagos transportation agenda. According to her, the state government has met with the associations and some of the unions’ leaders, adding that they, in-turn, were expected to carry all their members along.
On the modality for the distribution of the blue buses, Ogunlola said the buses are not going to be given to individuals and “that is why government has asked the drivers and owners to form themselves into units of cooperatives for easy switchover.”
On the mode of payment for the new blue buses by drivers, she said the announcement would be made when it is time.
It will be recalled that the plan to phase out the yellow buses started in 2015 when the state government proposed the Bus Reform Initiative aiming at giving residents of the state an integrated public transportation system. It was an initiative initially primed to commence the same year with a sinking fund of N30 billion.
The Bus Reform Initiative then was a three-year plan aimed at introducing over 5,000 air-conditioned buses to replace the yellow commercial buses, popularly called danfo, which was no longer befitting of the state’s mega-city status.
“We decided that the best thing is to allow the yellow buses go and so the Bus Reform Initiative itself is a three-year plan of 2017 to 2019 in which it intends to bring in new buses of 5,000 units in the three-year plan. The bigger size buses will take 70 people and then the medium range buses will take 30 people. We believe that the middle range buses will be supplied up to 70 per cent of the total volume which will amount to about 3,600 units and then the longer range in that direction,” former Governor Akinwumi Ambode said.
On how the state government intends to fund the initiative, the former governor said the administration would launch a public transportation infrastructure bond of N100 billion that would span between seven and 10 years, revealing that the government already had a sinking fund which it intended to put into the bond.
He added that aside from the bond, his administration also intended to give out franchise to interested stakeholders in multiple of 50 buses each, 100 buses, 200 buses and above, explaining that what was required was a down payment of 25 per cent of the buses’ prices.
“These are bankable projects as we have a sinking fund and so our exposure as a government is just technically 75 per cent. So, from the kind of machinery we want to use to run the buses, there are no cash takings, everything is automated and obviously, whoever has a franchise, whoever drives, they have the recourse to take part of the money while part of the intake also goes to the repayment of the facility and so it is a comprehensive template,” the former governor said then.
He, however, said that the state government expected the danfo drivers, who would be absorbed into the new initiative, to adapt accordingly, adding that the transport unions would be expected to take ownership to ensure sustainability.
Governor Sanwo-Olu is yet to show any public disapproval for the plan outlined by his immediate predecessor in office, signalling that the project is almost a done deal. Is it final goodbye to the ‘king of the road’?
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