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Mass Transit: Nigeria’s Journey To Nowhere?

Posted: Sep 1, 2015 at 12:17 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Transportation has been one of man’s means of exploring his environment. It is the movement of people within urban areas using group travel technologies such as buses and trains. The essential feature of mass transportation is that many people are carried in the same vehicle like buses or collection of attached vehicles like trains.

This makes it possible to move people in the same travel corridor with greater efficiency, which can lead to lower costs to carry each person or—because the costs are shared by many people—the opportunity to spend more money to provide better service, or both.

Mass transit systems may be owned by private, profit-making companies or by governments or quasi-government agencies that may not operate for profit. Whether public or private, many mass transportation services are subsidised because they cannot cover all their costs from fares charged to their riders.

Such subsidies assure the availability of mass transit, which contributes to making cities efficient and desirable places in which to live. The importance of mass transportation in supporting urban life differs among cities, depending largely on the role played by its chief competitor, the private automobile.

People travel to meet their needs for subsistence like to go to work, to acquire food and essential services), for personal development (to go to school and cultural facilities), and for entertainment (to participate in or watch sporting events, to visit friends).

The need for travel is a derived need, because people rarely travel for the sake of travel itself; they travel to meet the primary needs of daily life. Mobility is an essential feature of urban life, for it defines the ability to participate in modern society.

Travelers make rational choices of the modes they use, each choosing the one that serves him or her best, although best may be viewed differently by each traveler. Transportation services in a city define the alternatives from which travelers must choose between the activities available to them and the places to which they can go.

The transportation available to an individual is the collective result of government policies, the overall demand for travel in the region, competition among different modes, and the resources available to each individual to buy services. Urban transportation services directly affect the character and quality of urban life, which can differ among individuals who have access to different kinds and amounts of transportation services.

Railway Evolution

The need to move more people led to the emergence of the Nigerian Railway Corporation in 1898, when the first railroad in Nigeria was constructed by the British colonial government.

On October 3, 1912 the Lagos Government Railway and the Baro-Kano Railway were amalgamated, starting nationwide rail service under the name Government Department of Railways. With the passing of the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act of 1955, the company gained its current name as well as the exclusive legal right to construct and operate rail service in Nigeria.

The rail network reached its maximum extent shortly after Nigerian independence, in 1964. Shortly after that, the NRC entered a long period of decline, inept management, and eventually a complete lack of maintenance of rail and locomotive assets. In 1988, NRC declared bankruptcy, and all rail traffic stopped for six months. After that, trains resumed, where the tracks were usable. By 2002, passenger service was again discontinued altogether.

Starting in 2006, plans were made to restore the rail lines and add new locomotives with foreign assistance. In December 2012 regular, scheduled passenger service was restored on the Lagos to Kano line.

Population Explosion

The phenomenal increase in population and city size is noticeable in most cities especially state capitals and local government headquarters. For instance, according to a study, the population of Lagos grew at a phenomenal rate of about 15 per cent annually in the 1970’s while those of Ibadan, Ilorin, Kano, Port¬-Harcourt and Abeokuta grew at between 10-20 per cent annually in 1970’s and 1980’s.

Similarly, the population of Yola grew from 53,732 in 1963 to 156,978 in 1995 at a growth rate of 5 per cent  per annum.

The rapid increase of population was accompanied by a rapid expansion of the metropolitan town. Yola for example grew from 325 kilometres square in 1975 with a boundary of 5 kilometres to 650 kilometres square in 1984 with a boundary of 12 kilometres square. It was predicted that for every additional 1000 people in developing cities, an extra 350-400 public transport trips per day would be generated.

Similarly for every additional square kilometer of city growth, an extra 500 public transport trips per day will be generated.

Attempts in providing bus services to cope with the existing large and increasing demand have failed due largely to financial mismanagement, inadequate subsidy to maintain fleets and service.

Generally, when a transport company is established, it is expected to buy vehicles among other things and set up an operating system, in order to fulfill the major objectives of the transport concern. There are three principal functions of the ‘operations ‘ of a typical bus company namely; operating, maintaining and personnel management. But the principal functions of these operating systems are fraught with problem of Low fare policy, Insufficient Cost Recovery and Overstaffing which culminated in gross insufficiency.

Over the years, road has been the major mode of transport system in Nigeria. Other means of intra-urban and inter-urban transport system are the use of inland waterways and rail transport which are of course limited to a very few urban centers with peculiar terrain (water) in Nigeria. Even in terms of haulage of goods, the advent of motor vehicles revolutionized transport and constituted a challenge to the railroads.

According to a 1963 research by Stanford Research Institute, road transport as at 1953 was carrying 50 per cent of the total ten-miles of freight in Nigeria and by 1960; the proportion had increased to 62 per cent while the total traffic carried by all forms of transport had more than doubled.

Studies in the area of urban transportation confirmed that more than 75 per cent of population in cities depended on public transport while about 25 per cent depended on private transport system. The socio-economic variables of Nigerians contributed in no small measure to this pattern. Public transport system, which is an aspect of the country’s transport sector, had all along been in the hands and control of Nigerian private entrepreneurs. Thus, the private owners dictated largely the modus operandi of the nation’s public transport system.

In the early 1960s, the macro-economic indicators, which are yardsticks for measuring all aspects of the growth of Nigeria’s economy, were consistently positive. This was because the nation depended much on agricultural products for its foreign exchange earnings and a low proportion of the population were engaged in white-collar jobs. During this period, a number of private individuals owned private vehicles, which they used for both intra and inter-urban movements. The use of public transport for intra-urban movement purposes were largely concentrated in large cities like Lagos and Ibadan while commuters contend with the use of trekking within smaller towns as at 1960.

The situation however changed drastically today, as the commuting distances in towns and cities have increased.

In a report in 2008, there were 6,822 vehicles in Nigeria by 1946 made up of 4,702 relicensed and 2115 new ones. The figures soared to 20,440 by 1950 made up of 14,200 re-licensed and 6,240 new ones. The vehicle stock grew gradually from this time up to 1970 when it shot up astronomically. This period coincided with the period of rapid urbanization although a period of doldrums was experienced during the period when Nigerian was engulfed in the civil war (1966-1970).

After 1970, it became clear that there was going to be an automobile explosion in the cities of Nigeria. This is because vehicle stock rose sharply from a modest 100,268 vehicles in 1970 to 1,009,797 in 1977.

Unfortunately, the roads constructed then were unable to accommodate the increased vehicle at such a rapid speed. Thus, the problem of immobility in Nigeria cities started to unfold itself.

Other Climes

It is on record that some countries of the world have taken stringent efforts at addressing problems associated with mass movement of people from one point to the other.

In India, transport is an important part of the economy and since the economic liberalisation of the 1990s, infrastructure development has progressed rapidly; today there are a variety of modes of transport by land, water and air. However, India’s relatively low GNP per capita has meant that access to transport has not been uniform.

Public transport remains the primary mode of transport for most of the population, and India’s public transport systems are among the most heavily used in the world. India’s rail network is the 4th longest and the most heavily used system in the world, transporting 8,224 million passengers and over 969 million tonnes of freight annually, as of 2012.

Motor vehicle penetration is low by international standards, with only 10.3 million cars on the nation’s roads. In addition, only around 10 per cent of Indian households own a motorcycle. Despite this, the number of deaths caused by traffic is amongst the highest in the world and is still increasing. The automobile industry in India is currently rapidly growing with an annual production of over 4.6 million vehicles, and vehicle volume is expected to rise greatly in the future.

Despite ongoing improvements in the sector, several aspects of the transport sector are still riddled with problems due to outdated infrastructure and lack of investment in less economically active parts of the country.

The demand for transport infrastructure and services has been rising by around 10 per cent a year with the current infrastructure being unable to meet these growing demands. According to Goldman Sachs, India will need to spend $1.7 trillion on infrastructure projects over the next decade to boost economic growth, of which US$500 billion is budgeted to be spent during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan.


The first Bus Rapid Transit in Brazil (BRT) was built in 1974 in the city of Curitiba by the then mayor, Architect Jaime Lerner, and became the first BRT in the world. The goal of the system is to provide high quality rail transit service to customers and at a comparable cost to that of a bus transit.

Curitiba’s success inspired the implementation of similar plans in more than 100 cities around the world, including the Brazilian cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Manaus, Goiânia, Aracaju, Salvador, Recife, and Brasília.

Brazilian transportation infrastructure faces many challenges. Roads and ports need to be upgraded. Trucks hauling cargo on roads is the most common method of transportation.

Despite the existence of several rivers, waterways are rarely used.

The exception is the Amazon region, where rivers are usually the only way of access to many isolated villages.

Railroads are few and uncompetitive. The use of trains for long distance transportation of passengers is restricted to a few urban tourist routes, while cargo transportation is mostly restricted to minerals.

According to the National Logistics and Transport Plan (PNLT) established in April 2007, the investments needed to reduce bottlenecks in the transportation sector for the medium and long term may reach US$180 billion between 2010 and 2025. Investments include extension of highways, the interconnection of the North-South regions with the Southeast; ferries to cover North-South regions; and port construction.

The National Plan for Logistics and Transport (PNLT) in Brazil provides a framework for the evaluation of public and private initiatives to increase the competitiveness of the logistics sector, with a time horizon of 20 years.


The number of miles traveled by vehicles in the United States fell by 3.6 per cent in 2008, while the number of trips taken on mass transit increased by 4.0 per cent. At least part of the drop in urban driving can be explained by the 4 per cent increase in the use of public transportation. About one in every three users of mass transit in the United States, two-thirds of the nation’s rail riders live in New York City and its suburbs.

Some railroads, such as the Long Island Rail Road in earlier times, maintained a separate fleet of specially configured electric railway cars to provide a rapid transit service on designated routes that was distinct from its regular passenger operations.

Most medium-sized cities have some form of local public transportation, usually a network of fixed bus routes. Larger cities often have metro rail systems (also known as heavy rail in the U.S.) and/or light rail systems for high-capacity passenger service within the urban area, and commuter rail to serve the surrounding metropolitan area.

American mass transit is funded by a combination of local, state, and federal agencies. At the federal level, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provides financial assistance and technical assistance to state governments and local transit providers. From full year 2005 to 2009, the funding scheme for the FTA was regulated by the SAFETEA-LU bill, which appropriated $286.4 billion in guaranteed funding. The FTA awards grants through several programs, such as the New Starts program and Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) program.

On June 26, 2008, the House passed the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act (H.R. 6052),[5] which gives grants to mass transit authorities to lower fares for commuters pinched at the pump and expand transit services.

The bill also requires that all Federal agencies offer their employees transit pass transportation fringe benefits. Federal agencies within the National Capital Region have successful transit pass benefits programs.

It also increases the Federal cost-share of grants for construction of additional parking facilities at the end of subway lines from 80 to 100 percent to cover an increase in the number of people taking mass transit, while it creates a pilot program for vanpool demonstration projects in urban and rural areas and increases federal help for local governments to purchase alternative fuel buses, locomotives and ferries from 90 to 100 percent.

Advanced Public Transportation Systems (APTS) is an Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems, or IVHS, technology that is designed to improve transit services through advanced vehicle operations, communications, customer service, energy efficiency, air pollution reduction and market development.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, of the

30-odd cities with light rail systems in the United States, the light

rail systems in six of them (Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia,

Portland (Oregon), San Diego, and San Francisco) achieve more than 30

million unlinked passenger transits per year.

The United States has a number of light rail systems in its mid-sized

to large cities. In the oldest legacy systems, such as in Boston,

Cleveland, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San

Francisco, the light rail is vestigial from the first-generation

streetcar systems of the 19th and early 20th centuries, but were

spared the fate of other streetcar systems due these systems having

some grade separation from traffic and high ridership.[2] A number of

second-generation light rail systems were inaugurated in the 1980s

starting with San Diego in 1981, with a few more built in the

1990s,[2] and many more opened in lower density cities since the early


From the mid-19th century onwards, horse-drawn trams (or horsecars)

were used in cities around the world. The St. Charles Avenue Line of

New Orleans’ streetcar system is the oldest continuously operating

street railway system in the world, beginning operation as a

horse-drawn system in 1835.[3]

Also from the late 1880s onwards, electrically powered street railways

became technically feasible following the invention of a trolley pole

system of collecting current by American inventor Frank J. Sprague who

installed the first successful electrified trolley system in Richmond,

Virginia in 1888. They became popular because roads were then poorly

surfaced, and before the invention of the internal combustion engine

and the advent of motor-buses, they were the only practical means of

public transport around cities.

The streetcar systems constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries

typically only ran in single-car setups. Some rail lines experimented

with multiple unit configurations, where streetcars were joined

together to make short trains, but this did not become common until

later. When lines were built over longer distances (typically with a

single track) before good roads were common, they were generally

called interurban streetcars or radial railways in North America.

In the United States, most of the original first-generation streetcar

systems were decommissioned from the 1950s onward through

approximately 1970 as the popularity of the automobile increased.

Although a few traditional streetcar or trolley systems still exist to

this day (e.g. New Orleans), the term “light rail” has come to mean a

different type of rail system. Modern light rail technology has

primarily German origins, since an attempt by Boeing Vertol to

introduce a new American light rail vehicle was a technical failure.

After World War II, the Germans retained their streetcar (Straßenbahn)

networks and evolved them into model light rail systems (Stadtbahn).

Except for Hamburg, all large and most medium-sized German cities

maintain light rail (Stadtbahn) networks.

The renaissance of light rail in the United States began in 1981, when

the first truly second-generation light rail system was inaugurated in

the United States, in San Diego, California; the San Diego system

adopted the German Siemens-Duewag U2 as the light rail vehicle. (This

was just three years after the first North American second-generation

light rail system opened in the Canadian city of Edmonton, Alberta in

1978, and which used the same German Siemens-Duewag U2 light rail

vehicles as San Diego’s system adopted.

Historically, the rail gauge has had considerable variations, with a

variety of gauges common in many early systems (e.g. the broad

Pennsylvania trolley gauge, etc. used by New Orleans’ streetcars and

by the light rail systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). However,

most modern second-generation light rail systems now operate on

standard gauge rail.

An important advantage of standard gauge is that standard railway

maintenance equipment can be used on it, rather than custom-built

machinery. Using standard gauge also allows light rail vehicles to be

delivered and relocated conveniently using freight railways and

locomotives. Another factor favoring standard gauge is that low-floor

vehicles are becoming popular in second-generation light rail systems,

and there is generally insufficient space for wheelchairs to move

between the wheels in a narrow gauge layout.


The opening in 1863 of London’s steam-hauled Metropolitan Railway

marked the beginning of rapid transit. Initial experiences with steam

engines, despite ventilation, were unpleasant. Experiments with

pneumatic railways failed in their extended adoption by cities.

Electric traction was more efficient, faster and cleaner than steam

and the natural choice for trains running in tunnels and proved

superior for elevated services. In 1890 the City & South London

Railway was the first electric-traction rapid transit railway, which

was also fully underground. Both railways were eventually merged into

London Underground. The 1893 Liverpool Overhead Railway was designed

to use electric traction from the outset.

The technology quickly spread to other cities in Europe, Canada and

the United States with some railways being converted from steam and

others being designed to be electric from the outset. Budapest in

Hungary and Glasgow, Chicago and New York all converted or

purpose-designed and built electric rail services. Cities such as Oslo

and Marseille opened extensive systems in the 1960s and many new

systems were introduced in Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Advancements in technology have allowed new automated services. Hybrid

solutions have also evolved, such as tram-train and premetro, which

incorporate some of the features of rapid transit systems. In response

to cost, engineering considerations and topological challenges some

cities have opted to construct tram systems.

Rapid transit is used in cities, agglomerations, and metropolitan

areas to transport large numbers of people often short distances at

high frequency. The extent of the rapid transit system varies greatly

between cities, with several transport strategies.

Some systems may extend only to the limits of the inner city, or to

its inner ring of suburbs with trains making frequent station stops.

The outer suburbs may then be reached by a separate commuter rail

network where more widely spaced stations allow higher speeds. In some

cases the differences between urban rapid transit and suburban systems

are not clear.

Rapid transit systems may be supplemented by other systems such as

buses, trams, or commuter rail. This combination of transit modes

serves to offset certain limitations of rapid transit such as limited

stops and long walking distances between outside access points. Bus or

tram feeder systems transport people to rapid transit stops.

Each rapid transit system consists of one or more lines, or circuits.

Each line is serviced by at least one specific route with trains

stopping at all or some of the line’s stations. Most systems operate

several routes, and distinguish them by colours, names, numbering, or

a combination thereof. Some lines may share track with each other for

a portion of their route or operate solely on their own right-of-way.

Often a line running through the city centre forks into two or more

branches in the suburbs, allowing a higher service frequency in the

centre. This arrangement is used by many systems, such as the

Copenhagen Metro and the New York City Subway.

Alternatively, there may be a single central terminal (often shared

with the central railway station), or multiple interchange stations

between lines in the city centre, for instance in the Prague

Metro.[28] The London Underground and Paris Métro are densely built

systems with a matrix of crisscrossing lines throughout the cities.

The Chicago ‘L’ has most of its lines converging on The Loop, the main

business, financial, and cultural area. Some systems have a circular

line around the city centre connecting to radially arrange outward

lines, such as the Moscow Metro’s Koltsevaya Line and Tokyo’s Yamanote


The capacity of a line is obtained by multiplying the car capacity,

the train length, and the service frequency. Heavy rapid transit

trains might have six to twelve cars, while lighter systems may use

four or fewer. Cars have a capacity of 100 to 150 passengers, varying

with the seated to standing ratio—more standing gives higher capacity.

Bilevel cars, used mostly on German S-Bahn type systems, have more

space, allowing the higher seated capacity needed on longer journeys.

The minimum time interval between trains is shorter for rapid transit

than for mainline railways owing to the use of block signalling: the

minimum headway might be 90 seconds, which might be limited to 120

seconds to allow for recovery from delays. Typical capacity lines

allow 1,200 people per train, giving 36,000 people per hour. The

highest attained capacity is 80,000 people per hour by the MTR

Corporation in Hong Kong.