Mass, cheap transportation as palliative for fuel subsidy removal

Following the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government, petrol prices have gone from N195 per liter to N617 per liter. This has resulted in a hike in fares, placing a major strain on the disposable income of many people in the country.

The situation is further compounded by the absence of a metro line or functional bus mass transit system in the country; so public transportation is essentially undertaken using petrol-powered mini buses, taxis, and auto rickshaws, or what Nigerians call Keke.

It would be great if the government acquired large numbers of affordable Indian-made mass transit buses with the assistance of the Indian Exim Bank, for which payment could be spread over four years.

The government should give them out installment payment plans to civil society and religious organizations to run on a “not-for-profit basis” along designated routes within cities and between cities, charging “not-for-profit” fares, that is, fares that would just enable them to keep the buses running in top condition and have money left over to repay the cost of the buses over a five-year period. Considering that petrol-powered minibusses and taxis are the most expensive mode of mass transit, the use of diesel-powered buses could help bring fares down to levels far below the expensive pre-subsidies removal fares charged by the minibusses and taxis.

Public transportation has larger implications than most people realize. These effects are across a spectrum of issues, from the world of finance to global warming. Public transit significantly increases fuel efficiency, reduces traffic congestion, ensures safety, and reduces emissions per person, compared to other forms of transportation.

Public mass transit in China

China’s investment in transportation is helping them gain an upper hand in every facet of economic development. China not only has great public transportation infrastructure but is also investing in it to make it faster, cheaper, and more accessible. 

For decades, driving has been the main mode of travel in most regions of the world, which resulted in an ever-increasing number of cars worldwide, and China, being the most populous country, is no exception. As of 2021, China had over 300 million cars on the roads, 1.9 times more than a decade ago, placing a huge burden on the country’s road network.

To reduce urban congestion, the provinces introduced a bus rapid transit system, where buses enjoyed a free lane on the highway, avoiding traffic and delays. Moreover, the Chinese government heavily subsidized the cost of public travel in cities to boost the attractiveness of public transportation and reduce the number of private trips.

As for the future of the mobility scene in China, it was expected that shared mobility would gain popularity with around a 4 percent compound annual growth rate by 2050. Public transportation was also forecasted to grow around 3 percent in terms of the number of trips.

China has been promoting a clean and green public transportation system by increasing the number of electric vehicles in its fleet and related infrastructure. The share of all-electric buses in the fleet has skyrocketed over the past six years, from just 15.6 percent in 2016 to 59.1 percent in 2021. The total number of purely electricity-powered buses amounted to approximately 419,500 units that year.

Public mass transit in India 

India has the second largest population in the world after China, more than one-third of which lived in urban areas. Thus, public transportation had an indispensable role in daily mobility.

The majority of public transporters in Indian cities rely on buses, and many had developed bus rapid transit systems to improve the capacity and reliability of the conventional bus system. Several metropolitan cities also developed mass rapid transit metro systems for more efficient and non-disruptive urban passenger transportation.

Most of the buses and metro systems were owned and operated by local, state, and municipal governments. Compared to urban households, more rural households preferred using buses.

In 2021, the Indian government rolled out policies to raise the share of public transport in urban areas through the expansion of metro networks and city bus services. It allocated $26 billion for metro expansion and pledged to spend $1.5 trillion on general infrastructure, including public bus networks between 2020 and 2025.

In 2006, the Indian government introduced the National Urban Transport Policy, which was renewed in 2014. It was a long-term public strategy with the aim to provide sustainable transportation in the future. 

Two major fields of policy focus were the development of metro systems in major cities and the electrification and expansion of public bus transport fleets. With the intention to accelerate such processes, the Indian government opened the metro and bus sectors to private investors. Furthermore, the government launched the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme in 2015 and a further FAME II program in 2019, which provided incentives for electric vehicle purchases, including electric buses, and deployment of charging infrastructure. 

Public mass transit in Brazil 

Brazilian cities have long been leaders in the field of urban transit. As one of the world’s most urbanized regions, Brazil has developed innovative solutions to issues of public transportation, sustainable growth, and urban form.

Buses are by far the most common and flexible form of public transport in Brazil. All major cities in Brazil have a public bus system as well as a central bus station that provides options for traveling to other cities. Cost and safety vary based on location, but city bus fares are usually inexpensive.

Since the idea was first developed in Curitiba in 1974, Bus Rapid Transit has spread across the region and the globe. As the concept expanded to cities such as Quito, Buenos Aires, and Bogota, BRT has become more developed and sophisticated. ITDP has played a large role in the dissemination of BRT best practices and facilitated the implementation of high-quality systems around the world. ITDP’s BRT Standards and Rankings help develop consensus around best practices and encourage new corridors to meet these standards in their design and implementation.

Future aspirations of public transportation in Nigeria

State governments in Nigeria should encourage all auto rickshaws operating in the country to install LPG conversion kits to enable them to benefit from the significant cost savings of switching from petrol to LPG. Operators will be encouraged to pass that benefit on to commuters by maintaining fares at their pre-fuel subsidy removal level. 

India would be in a very good position to provide the needed kits and offer technical training for their proper installation.

The federal government should promptly introduce the BRT system in major cities, and electrify and expand public bus transport fleets, which will enjoy a free lane on the highway in order to avoid traffic congestion and delays.

•Oyewole is a management consultant in Lagos

Source: The Sun

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