Danfo in Lagos: What can the Babajide Sanwo-Olu government do differently? by Ifeanyi Abraham
My stories about taking Danfo in Lagos can fill a book. From the first time I took a Danfo, to the time I finally told myself I was done.
The Danfo aka Yellow bus is the most popular mass transit option for people in the city accounting for more than 60% of commuters.
The buses carry 16-18 passengers on the average with millions of passengers weekly. Working in Lagos in the early days of my career I would take 10-12 Danfo bus trips weekly.
From tales of drunk drivers to abusive conductors, fighting couples to perverse passengers, the tales are unending. Sometimes you even hear of the occasional love stories that began in a Danfo.
I remember the first time someone told me I was mad, it was the conductor of a Danfo in Lagos. I saw a woman slap a man for resting on her bosom. I witnessed pickpockets operate on the sly; all while I was in a Danfo bus.
The Danfo has become a symbol to represent Lagos; a song by a group Mad Melon talks about the Danfo driver while an upscale restaurant in Ikoyi is named after it: Danfo Bistro.
How big a headache are Danfos for the Lagos State Governors and residents.
As a symbol representing Lagos, what do residents think about it when they see or remember the buses? Is it a representative of the hustling and bustling spirit of an average Lagosian? Or do we think about dishonest drivers? Road blockers? Traffic causing miscreants? Traffic laws defying nuisances? Something you have to graduate out of as a resident?
What about for the Lagos state government?
During the gubernatorial campaigns, traffic management and transportation were one of this administration’s biggest talking points. Each candidate had to articulate what their plans were for Lagos and part of this plan was how to approach the recklessness of road users of which Danfo drivers are king.
Since coming into office, the Lagos state governor and his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat have personally experienced traffic caused by Danfo drivers going against traffic or generally being unruly.
In the most recent case, as shared by the deputy governor on his twitter page, he talked about bus drivers and other road users causing traffic by going against traffic.
Yesterday on Twitter, the executive governor of Lagos state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu had what he called ‘an honest talk about #SolvingLagosTraffic”. Over the course of an hour and 20 plus tweets, he talked about what his government could have done better, what they are doing now and what they will do in the future.
He shared some numbers about the number of cars on the road, fixed landmass talking about the current road infrastructure being inadequate and certain quick wins like water transportation, expanding the bus rapid transit and also bringing rail transportation on board.
He also specifically talked about his plans for Danfo buses in the state. In his words;
“Beyond road construction, we have started expanding the bus rapid transit system and gradually reducing the Danfo buses on the roads. I am excited to announce that we have purchased over 800 buses to add to the existing BRT fleet expanding to more routes”.
Great news right? 800 new buses with a capacity of about 60 passengers per bus means 48,000 people plus whatever existing capacity that exists with the currently available BRTs plus water transportation coming on board.
Transportation in Lagos might just be getting a huge facelift.
Looking beyond the behavior of the drivers and the role they play in causing traffic, a lot of the buses are rickety and old and the entire Danfo bus ecosystem is not well regulated. The governor has stated his first approach to the Danfo problem in Lagos but what else needs to be done?
I will share 3 recommendations for reforming the Danfo bus system.
- Increased monitoring and regulation of Danfo owners and drivers:
This has to be the first stage. We need a database of all Danfos operating in Lagos. We need the Vehicle Identification Numbers, their driver’s licenses and other documentation. There are Danfos owned by the drivers and those owned by others. We need all the information.
Without proper documentation and information, these drivers will continue to act lawlessly. The Fashola administration tried to do this but they were ignored by the drivers. Governor Sanwo-Olu needs to be firmer and work with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) to ensure this works within a short time frame.
- Rehabilitation and training of Danfo drivers to become BRT drivers:
Almost no one knows Lagos like a Danfo driver which presents an opportunity to train and rehabilitate some of these drivers to become BRT drivers. They need to run the BRT system in a way where there is accountability with proper key performance indexes for the drivers.
In Dubai, for example, the agency responsible for the regulation of public transportation is the Road and Transport Authority. Within this agency is a Public Transport Agency (PTA) that holds annual training and approval programs for candidates that will drive buses and other transportation in Dubai.
The Public Transport Agency provides public bus services with a large fleet of 1,518 buses. They operate an extended bus network of 119 internal lines, including 35 lines linking to metro stations, 12 intercity lines to transport passengers to other emirates, 62 internal lines, and 8 fast lines. The network covers 82% of the urban areas in Dubai and transports about 369,248 passengers per day.
The agency has zero-tolerance for bad behavior from bus drivers and regularly dismisses drivers for offenses including the consumption of alcohol, the use of banned substances, and causing accidents. This is a similar strategy the Lagos state government can use.
- Plug LASTMA and Police Corruption:
Corruption by the Police and LASTMA make the Danfo drivers bolder. They park indiscriminately after paying the Police and LASTMA ‘tax’ thereby causing a lot of traffic and pain for other road users knowing they won’t be stopped by the security agents that should be maintaining law and order.
These 3 simple steps will go a long way in sanitizing and revamping the Danfo bus system in Lagos. Just like the Yellow Cabs of New York, the Yellow Danfo bus is our identity in Lagos and reforming it to reflect the excellence that is our slogan is the way to go.
As Governor Sanwo-Olu announces bold transportation reforms and embarks on his plan to solve Lagos traffic, it is important to be strategic in how he handles the current Danfo system to avoid a push back from the Danfo drivers and owners and a possible increase in crime due to unemployment of drivers and conductors.
His approach needs to take all the sides of the picture into consideration.