By Ekelem Airhihen
Economics is an interesting subject. It plays itself out every day. We see it in the streets. We see it on our roads. Indeed no other place do the forces of demand and supply play out than on the streets of Lagos. Early in the morning you could go to Ikeja from Agege for as low as fifty naira. However, when the people begin to come out to go to work, the transport fare rises. If there is a build-up of traffic, a trip to Ikeja could cost as much as two hundred naira; that is about four times the cost! From Ikeja on the other end of the road, where there is light traffic to Agege, the fare in the morning up till rush hour remains fifty naira. Reason?People are not going in that direction in the morning. But as close of work approaches the transport fare rises from Ikeja to Agege, rising to as much as two hundred naira – again four times the cost!
Must the people pay that much? One may ask. Then the question comes also – do they have an alternative? Choice is an interesting subject in Economics. Before the Okada ban and the restriction on kekes these were choices, but they also hiked their fares along with their bus counterparts. Sometimes one is tempted to think of collusion by market players.
Choices come in various forms. Transportation must be looked at holistically. Rail, road, sea and air provide choices in various forms. So a master plan is required that integrates all forms of transport to serve the people, give them choices and thus shield them from the tyranny of capitalist road transport operators.
The world is talking about a shift away from fossil fuels. We have seen people producing solar powered kekes. Electric bikes and bicycles powered by batteries are coming in vogue. These are also choices that people will need to explore to provide alternatives for the people. An enabling environment in the form of legislation, quality roads around streets as major roads are getting a facelift, support of organized private sector and a culture reorientation away from cars and buses as means of mass transit among other measures are required to provide these choices for the people.
Now enter the Lagos Cowry card – a game changer. Stationed in front of the local government, the bus operator charges a fixed rate of one hundred and fifty naira from Agege to Ikeja. Comfort and technology have helped provide a ceiling above which the people can switch from the poorly maintained mass transit to the clean and comfortable buses.
Now these buses and the cards they swipe provide a mass of data that can be harnessed for transportation planning. Looking ahead, one can forecast the trend in mass transit requirements. It will be possible to tell when and where more buses will be required and prepare to meet that demand. Finance institutions will be able to take calculated risks on mass transit buses. Data will, therefore, open up a whole world of possibilities for the transportation industry.
The regulators need to be up and doing. As a new business model emerges there is the tendency for disruption of the market. Some players could begin to lose out. Road transport is a means of livelihood for many people. But the game is changing. Just like many artisanal skills are now being taken over by well educated people like we have seen in tailoring, now rechristened fashion designing, technology is gradually disrupting the road transport business. So, the regulator must ensure that the gains are not reversed by regulator capture by a dominant player. Also, the sea should not be allowed to turn red in a dog-eat-dog fight by industry sector players.
- EkelemAirhihen, an Airport Customer Experience Specialist, isformer secretary, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association, MurtalaMuhammed International Airport, Lagos