Still Waiting For The Palliative Buses
The last few weeks have been very difficult times for commuters living within Abuja and its environs as the 300 palliative buses also called “subsidy buses” introduced by the federal government in January to cushion the effects of the subsidy removal have been withdrawn from the road following government’s alleged inability to pay the cost of the buses already supplied.
The situation is biting harder on commuters living outside of the city centre, who come into Abuja, from neighbouring states, to work. As a result of the sudden withdrawal of the subsidy buses, the usual Abuja green buses have raised transport fares by as much as 50 percent. On a normal day, a journey from the suburbs into the city centre cost between N100 and N150. But this has been raised to N200 after the withdrawal of the palliative buses. While ‘subsidy buses’ were on the road their charges were between N60 and N80 depending on the distance of the trip.
A janitor, James Ugbede, a resident of Masaka in Nasarawa State, told this magazine that he used to wake up as early as 5:00 a.m. to enable him catch the first bus to town which takes off as early as 6:00 a.m. but since the ‘subsidy buses’ disappeared from the road, now he wakes as early as 4:00 a.m. to get free ride to town. James just got to the bus stop one morning and without warning from the bus company discovered that the subsidy buses were no longer on the road. “I came out to the road one morning only to find out that the buses were no more there. After waiting till 7:00 a.m., I decided to board another bus to work,” he said.
The essence of the ‘subsidy buses’ was to help cushion the hardship in transportation brought about by the increment in pump price of petroleum products in January. The ‘subsidy buses’ were also used by the FCT administration, led by the minister, Bala Mohammed in Abuja to experiment the planned bus rapid transit, BRT, which is yet to keep off.
However, observers have said that the experiment of using the palliative buses in the place of the planned BRT has on the other hand, further frustrated the smooth operation of the subsidy buses. They said the process has introduced a new dimension to the many road traffic problems in Abuja. The BRT has taken over one lane out of the three lane roads in Abuja creating log jams on the road. This is mostly visible on the Abuja/Keffi express road.
Speaking on the withdrawal of the subsidy buses on the road the transport secretary, FCT Jonathan Ivoke told this magazine that the buses have been taken off the road to carry out repairs on them. The secretary who spoke through the public relations officer in the department, Stella Ojeme said “the reason why some of the buses are presently not on the road is because they are undergoing servicing.” Ojeme assured that the buses would return to the road anytime soon even though she did not say exactly when they will return. She said the BRT buses were yet to be supplied, and that they will hit the road as soon as they are purchased.
Contrary to her explanation, this magazine reliably gathered that the withdrawn vehicles are being parked in a bank warehouse pending when government will make payment for the buses. Inside sources have said government has not paid for the buses. They said a request was made by government after which the suppliers handed the vehicles to government but since government took over the buses no money has been paid for them.
The contract that which is valued at over N15 billion was financed through the Urban Development in January. However five months after the deal was signed, the automobile companies which made the supply have allegedly not been paid for the first batch of the supply of 1,250 units of buses valued at N8.9 billion, a development which necessitated the suppliers to withdraw all the buses pending payment from government.
Out of the number supplied, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and its Trade Union Congress, TUC counterpart were allocated 600 mass transit buses to be shared in the 36 states while a fresh order of 1,242 was placed to beef up the scheme. Unfortunately for many commuters in Abuja and its environs, the remaining buses on the roads cannot effectively serve their transport needs at the moment. The Abuja Mass Transit Company introduced by Mallam Nasir el’Rufai with over 800 buses most of which are now grounded is not helping the situation either.
Before their withdrawal from the roads most of the subsidy buses, which have not lasted more than five months were already in bad shape. A good number of them had had a series of accidents. The level at which some of the vehicles were breaking down had also been another source for concern.
Under the sharing formula of the buses in the FCT, out of the 300 buses, 200 buses are meant to be operated by government in conjunction with the Abuja Urban Mass Transit Company ltd., AUMTCO while the remaining 100 is operated by the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW and the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners, NARTO.
The 100 buses supplied to NURTW and NARTO were the only buses left on the road as at the time of filing this report. Some of the transporters plying the routes now include Safetrip Transport ltd, Auto Star and AMAC Transport. Only time will tell the real condition of the buses.