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INVESTIGATION: How poor planning led to failure of Abuja urban mass transport scheme

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By Ihuoma CHIDEOZIE, Harrison EDEH, Lukman ABOLADE


EVERY morning and evening, on workdays, hundreds of residents would converge at any of the bus stops and junctions in different parts of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), desperately waiting for vehicles to convey them on their way to, or from, work.

Most times, they wait for a long time. There is always a rush when any registered cabs turn up to pick just a couple of passengers. Other residents, primarily workers who are going to work or returning home with private vehicles, complement the registered cabs by picking passengers for a fare.

The prevailing transportation situation in the FCT shows that the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Scheme of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has failed.

The transport scheme is driven by the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited (AUMTCO).

The company was initially established as Abuja Bus Service (ABS) before registering as Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited under the Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990.


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Set up as a vehicle to drive the transportation needs of the FCT, AUMTCO, by its terms of reference, was expected to provide “the best value for money and safest, most reliable scheduled and bus hire service in Nigeria.”

The company was also expected to plan, develop and implement a sustainable urban public transport system in the FCT for effective, comfortable, safe, regular, efficient and affordable transport service delivery.

Head office of the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited
Head office of the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited

AUMTCO reportedly commenced operations with over 500 high-capacity buses procured at a total cost of about N1.3 billion, deployed on designated FCT routes, including Abuja-Mararaba Abuja-Bwari, Abuja-Kuje, Abuja-Gwagwalada and Abuja-Suleja. The company’s buses also plied routes within Abuja city centre.

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The take-off of the urban transport scheme led to a ban on green painted mini-buses, popularly referred to as ‘Araba’, in the FCT.

At the time AUMTCO commenced operations, it reportedly had a staff strength of 518 workers.

But the urban mass transport scheme never met the transportation needs of the FCT, the reason for which it was conceptualised.

Investigations by The ICIR reveal that poor planning was primarily responsible for the failure of the scheme.

Although AUMTCO was established with lofty objectives, the company’s large 49-seater buses were very slow and, as a result, we’re never entirely accepted by Abuja residents, especially workers who needed to get to their offices on time.

The movement of the buses was slowed down by having to pick and drop passengers at all bus stops and junctions on the various routes.

As a result, even though the green mini-buses have been phased out, residents preferred to patronise small cabs, mostly salon cars which carry a maximum of four passengers at the back, and sometimes two on the front passenger seat.

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The small cabs move faster but charge marginally higher fares.

The government initially subsidized the Abuja urban mass transport scheme, but the buses were expected to make a profit.

The FCT authorities failed to consider the nature of the Abuja traffic situation.

Unlike Lagos, a large, diverse population that comprises business people and office workers, Abuja is populated by mostly civil servants and other office workers.

As a result, unlike Lagos, where there are numerous passengers on every route at all times of the day, Abuja has what transportation operators describe as one-way traffic – residents move from the satellite areas to offices in the city centre in the morning and move from the city centre to the satellite towns in the evening.

The development is due to the centralisation of government offices in Abuja city centre, particularly the Central Business District.

* Abuja urban mass transport company is running at a loss

Head of Administration and Human Resources AUMTCO Musa Bello told The ICIR that the centralisation of government offices in Abuja city areas was one of the reasons the company could not break even and is currently running at a loss.

“In the morning, if the bus takes passengers to a destination, it will come back empty because it is one-way traffic. Everybody will work from the satellite towns to Abuja city centre in the morning, and nobody is moving in the other direction until evening. That is a problem.

“It is unlike Lagos where there is traffic in all directions all the time, but in Abuja, here is it one-way traffic. In the morning, you go in one direction; in the evening, you go the opposite direction. So the bus usually returns empty.”

At the head office of AUMTCO, along the Kubwa Expressway, The ICIR saw several parked buses which are currently not in use.

Many buses in the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited (AUMTCO) fleet are not in good condition and have been grounded.
Many buses in the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited (AUMTCO) fleet are not in good condition and have been grounded.

Bello explained that the cost of maintaining the buses was too high, which made it difficult for the company to repair broken down vehicles.

“Cost of maintenance is a major challenge,” he said, adding that the buses run on diesel.

A litre of diesel is about N300 at the moment.

Bello said the low fares charged by the company makes it even more challenging to break even.

“Our fare is also another problem. We charge between N100 and N200 no matter the distance,” he said.

There is a cap on the fare the company can charge for different routes across the FCT.

But despite the low fares charged, passengers have not embraced the urban mass transport scheme.

“In our buses, we have checks and balances to ascertain that every passenger paid, but people feel it wastes their time. Also, we drop and pick along the way, which slows the movement. The passengers want to move fast, and they would rather pay higher fares with small cabs. If we charge N100, they don’t mind paying N250 for a Mazda on the same route to get to their destination faster,” Bello said.

He further explained that workers, who are the main target of the scheme, hardly use the buses.

“It is smaller people who can hardly afford the low fares that we charge that are patronizing us.”

“We are not making a profit, we are not even breaking even,” Bello added, noting that the company is still operating due to support from the government.

* Non-enforcement of FCT transport regulations undermined urban mass transport scheme

The FCTA Transport Secretariat is the agency charged with enforcing transport regulations in the FCT.

However, investigations by The ICIR reveal that the failure of the secretariat to enforce transport rules undermined the urban mass transport scheme by exposing AUMTCO to unfair competition with mostly unregistered operators.

Bello explained that AUMTCO’s high-capacity buses would have effectively addressed the transportation needs of the FCT if there had been enforcement of transport regulations.

He said, “When there was the enforcement of regulations during the administration of the previous minister, we had more vehicles on the road, and each day, we realized about N5 million.

“But since enforcement collapsed, we have been running at a loss because we are competing with smaller cabs and private vehicles which are not registered. They are all over the place.

“Every park now has been turned to the garage, and touts are now operating anyhow. You go to any junction or bus stop and load passengers and give the touts N50. It is not supposed to be so.”

He further explained that, initially, when the urban mass transit buses were introduced, the idea was to discourage the use of private vehicles in the Abuja metropolis due to the prevailing problem of unavailability of parking lots in most of the offices in the Abuja metropolis.

“During the time of Nasir El Rufai as minister of FCTA, the plan was to build a parking lot outside the entrance of Abuja city centre where everybody will park his vehicle and join a bus to the town. But now houses have been built on those plots that were designated as parking lots,” Bello noted.

* FCTA supported buses with N40 million monthly subsidy from 2014 to 2017

The ICIR’s investigations revealed that the FCT Administration endorsed the operation of the AUMTCO buses with N40 million monthly subsidy between 2014 to 2017.

The government stopped subsidizing the buses when it became apparent that the scheme had failed.

“The buses used to get a subsidy of N40 million monthly from the FCT Administration since 2014, but that stopped in 2017,” a Deputy Director in charge of High-Capacity Buses at the Transport Secretariat of the FCTA Harisu Jaminu told The ICIR.

Some Abuja urban mass transport high-capacity buses plying FCT routes
Some Abuja urban mass transport high-capacity buses plying FCT routes

Jaminu said the government is no longer supporting the buses, which he said number between 120 to 150 currently.

* AUMTCO management informed FCTA that Abuja urban mass transport scheme is not sustainable

There are indications that the FCTA may redesign or scrap the Abuja urban mass transport scheme.

Jaminu revealed that the management of AUMTCO had informed the FCTA authorities that the urban mass transport scheme was no longer sustainable.

“The management of the Abuja urban mass transit high capacity buses had written us twice advising the government that running the buses is no longer sustainable,” Jaminu revealed, adding that the management of the company advised the FCTA to involve the private sector in the scheme.

As a result, the FCTA is currently tinkering with a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model for the urban mass transit scheme, Jaminu added.

* Private sector investors pulled out over lack of profit

However, The ICIR learnt that private sector operators had invested in the Abuja urban mass transport scheme in the past only to pull out due to little or no returns on investment.

The private investors include Unity Transport Company and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which operate in Lagos.

“When Unity Transport came, they had over 40 vehicles, but it was forced to close down because it could not break even. Another company came from Lagos and also left. BRT also came from Lagos but had to go back. Lagos State Government also brought some of their buses to Abuja, but they had to go back,” Bello observed.

“The companies were given land to build their offices and workshops, but some of them had to sell the land to recover part of their investment,” he added.

Bello stressed that new private investors in the urban transport scheme would still fail to break if transport regulations were not enforced.

“There should be enforcement – if you are not registered as a taxi, you should not carry passengers.

“Government should provide bus stops for picking and dropping passengers. Abuja is supposed to be a model city, so there should be bus stops. Also, there should be parking spaces. Government should also encourage people to patronize the buses,” he added.

* Residents recount tales of woe

The failure of the urban mass transport scheme has brought untold hardship on many residents of the FCT who are forced to wait for long periods to access means of transportation.

Joseph Kalu resides in Lugbe, a satellite town. He manages a business centre in Abuja Central Business District and has to go to work every day, apart from Sundays.

Kalu told The ICIR that the transport situation was frustrating.

“It is very frustrating; every morning and evening, I have to fight to get a cab home. You will struggle to get a taxi and still sit inside traffic till you get to the city centre, it is not good,” he said, adding that “the only time you don’t struggle for a cab is when you go home before other people close from work”.

Vivian Coker regrets that the government did not provide an efficient transport scheme that could effectively convey passengers in and out of the city.

Coker, who works in a firm that is located at Area 1, said many residents had fallen victim to touts, also known as ‘agberos’, who rob people of their phones and other valuables when passengers are struggling for cabs and buses, especially at the close of work in the evening.

“If there are enough buses to go around, you think people would stand like this in a long queue for this long looking for buses? Last week one woman’s phone went missing while she was struggling to get a bus here. Those agbero boys would wait till evening where it is rush hour so that can steal phones and snatch peoples’ bags. The government should provide enough buses and so these things can stop,” Coker said.

At the time she spoke to The ICIR, Blessing Attah had stood at Berger junction looking for a cab to Kubwa for more than thirty minutes.

The ICIR’s correspondent observed as she and scores of other prospective passengers kept running after cabs in a desperate bid to get home from work.

There is always a struggle among the passengers whenever an empty or half-empty cab comes along. Attah and the other passengers would first inquire whether the taxi was plying their route. Passengers who happen to be going on the route the cab is taking would fall over each other to secure a position in the vehicle.

Attah explained in an interview with The ICIR that running after taxis has become her daily routine since she started work as a salesgirl in a boutique around the Berger axis in Abuja.

Passengers usually struggle to board cabs during rush hour periods - in the morning when coming into Abuja city centre from the satellite towns and in the evenings when leaving the city for satellite towns.
Passengers usually struggle to board cabs during rush hour periods – in the morning when coming into Abuja city centre from the satellite towns and in the evenings when leaving the city for satellite towns.

Attah expressed regrets that even though her work requires that she stands for most of the day, she still has to stand for several minutes looking for a taxi to and from work.

“In the morning, when I’m coming to work, I will stand and fight for a taxi; when I get to work, it is still the same thing because I will attend to customers. It gets even worse when I’m going back home – I still stand for a long time struggling for a taxi,” she said.

The young lady disclosed that the situation had taken a toll on her as she usually felt pains on her ankles at night.

“It is not easy,” she observed, pointing out that her favourite day is Sunday when she does not have to come to town from her base in Mararaba, a satellite town.

Princess Phibi, who lives in Jikwoyi, a satellite town, was at Sky memorial junction at Wuse, in Abuja city centre, looking for a taxi to convey her to her home when The ICIR approached her.

During an interview with The ICIR, she lamented that struggling for a cab has become an everyday feature of her life.

“it is a regular issue. I engage in this struggle for a vehicle every day. This is the situation we have found ourselves in, there is nothing we can do about it, but the stress is too much. After all this, I will still go and sit inside traffic,” she said.

The majority of Abuja residents live in satellite towns due to the high cost of housing in the FCT.

For most residents who do not have their private vehicles, getting a taxi to and from work is a significant challenge.

Another commuter at Sky Memorial junction who identified himself as Goke said that the non-availability of buses sometimes causes some drivers to inflate transport fares on their routes.

“If we finally get a bus after waiting for a long time, the conductors would charge N300 for Nyanya that is supposed to be N200. But even at that, we would still rush to enter the vehicle because you might wait another 15 minutes before you see another one,” he said.

Gloria, a resident of Nyanya, said that the situation has never been different except on Saturdays and Sundays.

“There is no rush for buses or taxis on weekends and why it is so bad is because you know all the offices are in town (Abuja city centre).

* No records of population of residents, number of vehicles, in FCT

During the investigation, The ICIR approached the National Population Commission (NPC) to determine the number of residents in the FCT.

Director Public Affairs of the NPC Joe Udi told The ICIR to submit a letter for the request.

However, an official of the commission, who did not wish to be named, revealed that the NPC does not have the figure and was waiting for the next national population census, slated for 2022, to get the number of people in the FCT.

The ICIR also sought to find out the estimate of the number of vehicles in the federal capital.

The figures were required to ascertain the urban mass transportation needs of the FCT. But the FCTA Transportation Secretariat failed to provide an estimate of the number of vehicles in the FCT.

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1 COMMENT

  1. You people are embezzle money from the transport that why you can’t maintain the buses, nothing but the truth, quote me anywhere I will defend myself

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