The dream of providing an effective mass transport scheme for residents of Abuja and its environs has run into trouble.
Investigations by LEADERSHIP showed that out of the 192 Marcopolo brand of Mercedes Benz buses procured for the scheme by the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited (AUMTCO), 115 have been grounded.
However, it was found that the company is struggling to keep the remaining 77 buses in its fleet on the road even as the need for its services surges.
A total of N3.2 billion naira was spent in the purchase of the 192 luxury buses from the Mercedes Benz plant in Brazil.
The buses were procured in three phases at the cost of N17 million each, excluding insurance and miscellaneous expenses.
AUMTCO was established in 2005 by the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, to provide world-class mass transport services to Abuja residents.
The scheme was introduced at the wake of the ban on commercial motorcycle operations popularly called Okada and was also meant to replace hundreds of rickety buses that plied routes in the city.
Investigations further showed that during the first phase of its operations, AUMTCO procured 22 buses while additional 20 buses were brought in shortly after.
However, 150 other buses were added to the fleet, six months after the scheme took off but things seem not to be working well seven years after.
When LEADERSHIP visited AUMTCO office on the Northern Bye-Pass in Maitama, 99 non-functional buses where found at the parking bay.
Another 22 buses which were also non-functional were found in an open field behind Primus Specialty Hospital located in Karu, an outskirts of Abuja. ?
A comparative study of the operations of the mass transit scheme and private bus operators in Abuja showed that AUMTCO charged the least fare on all routes within and outside the city.
It was also found that the scheme has been charging the same fare since its inception in 2005 even when the cost of diesel has increased over the years from N75 to N175 per litre.
For instance, while it charged N100 on Gwagwalada route, private bus operators charge between N200 to N250 per passenger on the same route.
On the Mararaba route, the public mass transit buses charge N60 while private bus operators charge between N100 and N150, depending on the time of the day.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP, AUMTCO Head of Operations, Eddie Ajon said the company was created to provide a transport system that would rival with similar companies in any other city in the world.
But barely seven years after the company took off, Ajon said AUMTCO was not faring well and blamed the situation on high cost of diesel, low fares and traffic congestion.
He said, “The situation is not very good. Out of 192 buses, we barely have 77 on the road on a daily basis.
“The objective was to create a transport system that would rival that of any other city in the world and would be efficient to take over from the motor bikes that were driven away from the city and also replace the dilapidated buses on the road with air-conditioned buses that anybody would leave their cars and use.
“The main problem is that the fares are fixed by the government. Government’s plan was to make it affordable to all and in doing this; they did not consider the cost of operation. The prices were fixed below the cost of operation.
“Private companies charge thrice what we charge on some routes and whereas they buy petrol at N65, we buy diesel at the rate of N175 per litre. So you can imagine the disparity.”
He said that the cost of diesel has eroded every cost-recovery mechanism put in place by the management of the transport company.
Apart from these, Ajon said traffic congestion in many parts of the city was another serious challenge faced by the company
He continued, “For most governments in the world, the importance of mass transportation is to use buses to reduce congestion so they create bus lanes to ensure that the buses move faster and it encourages people to leave their cars and go in the buses.
“That was the plan but we don’t have bus lanes now and we join the same queues in the traffic with other vehicles. When we started, Lagos State came to learn from us and they established their own BRT scheme which is now better than ours. They were coming to ask us questions and they took it a step further.”
Investigation by LEADERSHIP revealed that governments in other parts of the world provide subsidy for mass transport operations.
Examples of such countries include the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and India. ?
In the US for instance, the Congress appropriates a percentage of the budget as subsidy for mass transit services.
In London, the British Parliament provides funds to subsidise the cost of operating mass transportation scheme in the country.
The subsidy enables the operators of the scheme upgrade the fleet, maintain vehicles and offer low-cost services to a wide range of passengers.