Thursday, 25 September 2008

Commuters' Headache

Despite the introduction of mass transit buses by the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, to ease transportation problem, Abuja residents still groan over high transport fares occasioned by arbitrary hike by touts

By Sunny Idachaba

At the close of work everyday, Ojo, who relocated to Abuja two months ago, notices long queue of commuters waiting to board the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company, AUMTCO (popularly called el-Rufai buses) at Wuse. He wonders why people could subject themselves to such hardship when there are many mini-buses available. He was later to find out the reason.

Another resident of the city, Okey had a bitter taste of the transportation problem in the territory. Okey, a journalist had an accident with his car, which sent the vehicle to the mechanic workshop. In the interim, he resorted to the use of public transport pending when his car would be fixed. That was when, like Ojo, Okey understood why people queue for hours waiting to board the 'el-Rufai' bus. He told this magazine that he paid N80 from Kubwa where he lives to Wuse while coming to work but surprisingly the fare rose to N150 in the evening that same day. Okey who had only N100 in his pocket said he quickly disembarked and contacted a friend who bailed him out.

Arbitrary hike in transport fares has become the pastime of motorists in the territory. Ade, 27 years old who came to Abuja in 2006 in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece but became a motor boy in a mini bus plying Suleja in Niger State to Wuse, is among those who relish hiking fares, especially during peak hours of the day. He told Newsworld that hold-ups experienced by motorists during peak hours made the hike inevitable. “If you buy N2000 fuel, by the time you go through the hold-up the fuel would finish,” he said. But an attempt by Ade and his colleagues to raise the fare from N200 to N250 on Suleja-Abuja route on a rainy Monday morning nearly resulted in a clash between them and the passengers. It took the intervention of the vehicle inspection officers, VIOs, at Mabushi to arrest the situation.

The traffic situation in the territory seemed to be defying solutions. This is blamed on the influx of people to the city. The worse hit are Abuja-Keffi road and Suleja-Abuja expressway commuters. Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar, minister of the territory said government is contemplating closing a section of the Suleja-Abuja road to traffic during peak hours to ease the situation while contract has been awarded for the construction of a flyover at AYA junction to further ease the traffic situation along Abuja-Keffi road.

But residents of the territory said motorists are unduly exploiting the commuters. Kola Azeez, secretary of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, at the Jabi motor park told Newsworld that fares charged on every route in the territory are uniformly fixed. He accused the people he called 'unauthorised' drivers who are not registered with the union of exploiting the passengers. According to him, before the fare on any route is raised, it would be communicated to all the transport owners whose vehicles are on such roads and not a few individuals who delight in taking advantage of every situation to raise fares.

Head, safety and enlightenment unit of the Directorate of Road Traffic Services, Vivian Uttah advised those responsible for the transport sector in the territory to take a second look at the trend of arbitrary hike in transport fares in the federal capital.

Intra city transport system is a catalyst for economic growth. In some countries like Egypt and Libya, the operation of private cabs is regulated by government to guard against indiscriminate fare increase. Ahmadou Sheriff, a Libyan who has a shop in Wuse II, Abuja told this magazine that now the unpleasant sight of motor bikes has been phased out of the city centres, private cabs operating in the city should be regulated. For him, Nigeria is a place where any body can come into from any part of the world to do business without any fear of reprisal.

Until the authorities of the city take a second look at the transport sector, Abuja would soon be worse than what Lagos was before the seat of the government was removed from there.

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