The ‘one-man per car’ syndrome has been exacerbated by the failure of the Federal Capital Territory’s (FCT) urban mass transit system, which has forced workers to drive their own cars. Due to the congestion and traffic backups that resulted, working hours were lost, Journalists learnt.
Since its establishment in 1976, the nation’s capital has grown faster than anticipated thanks to the influx of new residents from all over the nation.
Journalists observed commuters rushing to vehicles as soon as they arrived at the majority of the parks they visited in order to secure seats.
Most of those who have one thing or the other to do in the metropolis reside in the satellite towns such as the Kubwa-Zuba axis, Nyanya-Mararaba axis and the Bwari axis of the city, among others.
The Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited (AUMTCO), originally known as Abuja Bus Service (ABS), was founded by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), then the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, in 1984 with the goal of meeting the city’s rapidly expanding transportation needs. It was later registered as Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited under the Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990.
The organisation was created, among other things, to offer “the best scheduled and bus hire service in Nigeria at the most reasonable cost. Additionally, it was to organise, create, and implement a sustainable urban public transportation system in the FCT for reliable, comfortable, safe, timely, and affordable transport service delivery.
In addition to implementing the Abuja master plan with regards to urban transportation, it was also to develop a sustainable means of funding urban public transportation services in the FCT, evolve appropriate policy framework to subsidise urban public transportation and provide adequate transport infrastructure in the territory, with particular reference to urban public transportation.
With 518 employees, AUMTCO is the largest bus transportation company in Nigeria. With over N1.3b in funding, AUMTCO began construction of over 500 high-capacity buses for specific routes in the Federal Capital Territory, including Abuja-Mararaba, Abuja-Bwari, Abuja-Kuje, Abuja-Gwagwalada, and Abuja-Suleja.
In order to ensure smooth operations for AUMTCO, the well-liked minibuses known as “Araba,” which plied the capital city in 2013, were soon banned after the high-capacity buses arrived.
By 2014, more than 100 high-capacity buses had been introduced by the administration of the then-minister, Senator Bala Mohammed, to supplement the el-Rufai buses that were already operating on the satellite town routes.
“These new buses would go a long way in alleviating the transportation problems of the residents of FCT, especially the majority of workers living in the satellite towns,” said former vice president, Mohammed Namadi Sambo, while launching the buses.
According to Sambo, the administration would not relent in its efforts to build and administer a capital city in compliance with the Abuja Master Plan, “through the establishment of an effective and enduring service-oriented administration that can respond to the needs and aspirations of all residents and stakeholders.”
But, eight years down the line, most of the high-capacity buses have disappeared on all the routes to satellite towns even within the city centres.
Investigation by Daily Trust further revealed that most of the buses are parked at FCTA yard, Katampe Hill, along Kubwa-Zuba Road, making them continue to be unavailable for residents, who lack alternative means of transportation. Some of the buses that had only minor mechanical faults were left to rot alongside those with major faults.
Light rail not working
After being abandoned for years, the multi-billion-naira Abuja Rail Mass Transit, also known as Abuja Light Rail, is rotting away.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the metro rail, which was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari on July 12, 2018 and opened for passengers the following week, has since been abandoned, paving the way for vandals to feast on the facility.
The project was originally meant to solve the perennial transportation problem in the FCT and its adjoining towns and cities.
When the metro rail was opened for business in 2018, only the section from the Abuja Metro Station in the Central Business District to the airport was put to use, with an intermediate station at Idu.
The entire project was proposed to cover a total distance of 290 km (180 mi) to be developed in six phases or lots.
It was to cost $824m with 60 per cent to be funded with loans from the Exim Bank of China.
After all the paper works, which were not made public, were completed, construction work on lots 1 and 3 commenced.
Sadly, the train service soon folded up, and therefore, did not add value to the citizens, who are in serious need of an efficient transportation system.
Transport system in cities in other parts of the world
Since 2020, residents of Luxembourg have been able to ride trains and buses throughout the country without buying tickets. According to the government, it is in a bid to reduce dense car traffic. The measure is part of a wider plan to reduce congestion.
In a report by Bloomberg, free transit programs have emerged in all kinds of cities and countries over the years as a means of addressing rising energy costs or traffic. Rome experimented with free buses in 1971; Austin, Texas, tried it in 1989 and 1990; Kansas City’s bus and streetcar systems have been fare-less since 2020; and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has vowed to “Free the T” throughout the Massachusetts city, starting with a trio of fare-free bus routes.
According to the report, one of the longest-running efforts has been in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, which has had free public transit for residents since 2013, while Estonians also pay no fares for rural bus journeys. Ticket-less transit has also recently arrived in the cities of Dunkirk, France, and the Czech Republic’s Frýdek-Místek.
Speaking to our reporter, residents lamented that commuters in and within the city have to depend majorly on private car owners for their means of transportation.
Our findings further revealed that in some areas, residents would have to wait for over an hour or more before accessing a means of transportation to their destination.
A civil servant, Michael Daniel, told Daily Trust that, “Life in Abuja is largely miserable as far as public transportation is concerned. The masses are at the mercy of nature and private motorists who often charge twice the usual fare.”
Another civil servant, Madam Joy Anyanwu, while lamenting said: “Public transportation in Abuja has collapsed.
Tunde Olayinka, a resident of Deidei, whose office is in Wuse, said getting a vehicle to convey him to his work place during rush hour is always a struggle. He said: “You have to struggle for a seat once a vehicle arrives at this junction (Army barracks Phase 2 junction) or you may end up going to work very late.
Parked buses undergoing maintenance – AUMTCO
When contacted, the Head, Marketing and Communication, AUMTCO, Tunde Akintola, told our reporter that the parked buses within the head office of the company’s premises were undergoing maintenance.
He said the company tried as much as possible to deploy buses to commuters.
He said: “When you have a fleet, some of them need to come back for maintenance. This is the head office and this is where we repair buses and we have our depots here from where vehicles move out and in. In the kind of job we’re doing, it is necessary that at least not less than 70 per cent of the fleet has to be working and 30 percent can be down. The buses are not new buses. There’s a need for repairs.
“If you go to Lagos and Port Harcourt, you will see a depot like this where you would see a lot of buses for major or minor maintenance and some other repairs. A vehicle can come in just because of the brake light because it has to be fixed. We try as much as possible to deploy buses to commuters.”
On the way forward for the outfit, he said it is for the government to “give us dedicated terminals or bus stops, subsidise our costs and you’ll see us bounce back for the benefit of residents.”
A stranded commuter at the Kubwa NNPC bus stop, Hassan Ibrahim, suggested that the minister of the FCT, must as a matter of urgency, develop and unveil a transport blueprint for the nation’s capital city.
Ibrahim said: “Abuja ought to be a model for other cities in the country. Sadly, it is not so. Some years ago, Luxembourg made public transport free. But here we are begging the government to only establish a robust and stress-free public transport which commuters will pay for. It is unfortunate that there is no public transport system in Abuja.”
A transporter at one of the parks in Kubwa, Ikenna Uche, told our reporter that the failure of the Urban Mass Transit Company Limited to live up to expectations was responsible for the high volume of passengers hanging around major bus stops in the city, including Berger Junction, Area 1 Junction, the Federal Secretariat, FCT Roundabout, among others at close of business each day. The situations worsens when there is a heavy rainfall
Uche said: “I am not saying it is the right thing, but as businessmen, we take advantage of this failure on the part of the government to increase our fares from the usual N200 to N300, and at times even to N400 for a trip from Kubwa to Airport Junction, Wuse, Berger, Area 1 and to other areas.
“Unfortunately, the failure of the mass transit buses to cover the entire FCT effectively has led to a situation where all manner of persons resort to the transportation business. In some cases, criminals masquerade as transporters and rob commuters of their valuables.”
But according to the Director of Information & Communication at the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Muhammad Hazat Sule, the administration is aware of the gap in the public transportation system in the country’s capital and it is doing everything possible to address the gap.
The director, while fielding questions from our reporter during his recent visit to the Media Trust Group, publishers of Daily Trust titles, said the Minister, Muhammad Musa Bello, was working on a plan to address the challenges associated with public transport system in the territory and would come out with concrete policy in due course.
He said already a committee had been set up to assess the situation and assured the residents to look out for the outcome soon.