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Africa: Battle to reform Lagos taxi system

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Used to the “drop” culture, taxi operators are battling to stop the Lagos State Government from enforcing the taxi operation law. Is the law inimical to their interest? ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE reports that enforcement of the law is the way to go.

Nobody can say how and when taxi operators started the “drop” culture in Lagos. In the past taxi drivers drove round the metropolis, looking for passengers who they picked along the road. Suddenly, that stopped; taxis no longer drive round town, but park at designated places, waiting for passengers to come to them.

New practice
Older Lagosians said the charter system was never part of the drop taxi culture. They recalled how they boarded taxis from Iddo train terminus, or Isale-Eko, to Lafiagi and even shuttled across the Lagoon to places such as Ojuelegba, Surulere or Fadeyi, when the Eko and Carter bridges were the highpoints of the city.

Pa Ore Adesomo, 70, said taxis were commonplace and fashionable as means of transportation in the ’60s and ’70s in Lagos, and were never regarded as status symbol.

“Then, people readily flagged down taxis and told the driver their destination. The drivers, too, picked passengers on the go, and charged them depending on the distance to their destination. You hardly found any taxi going empty on the road because they were usually, intermittently, flagged down by commuters,” he recalled.

It’s not that people who could afford it never flagged down taxis for charter services in those days as well, but they were far in between and never regarded it as the norm as is the case today.

Though the older generation recalled the old times when taxis served the last-mile purposes and took people to their destination, the younger generation hardly could recall ever seeing commuters freely patronising taxis, either individually or in groups except by charter.

The irony is that no one could recall when the old order was replaced by the charter regime. An old driver, who gave his name as Abdullateef, said the charter regime might have come with the Udoji Salary Bonus of the mid-’70s, when senior civil servants, trying to show off their new social status, began to charter taxis to work and other social engagements.

Abdullateef, who has operated from the Mushin Park for over 30 years, said the practice, gradually began from this period, took root in the late ’80s, when it became the rule of the thumb for taxi drivers to look for charter (euphemistically called drop) than to carry passengers who would not be ‘loaded.’

Generations of public transport users from the 80s would agree that, for Lagos, the ‘drop culture’ for taxi system has become the rule of the game.

Characteristically, for patrons, taxi drop has its own advantages. Many argue that not only does it assure safety for patrons; it also ensures that commuters are insulated from the rapacious indiscipline that has caged the roads. For this, those who charter taxis do not mind the extra money they have to cough out to get safely to their destinations.
Many of the taxi drivers are reputed to be adept on the roads and gifted with the uncanny ability to wriggle out of traffic choke with ease.

However, the narratives of the taxi system changed with the emergence of cab operators, who ventured into the shuttle business using their cars to generate extra source of income. Their incursion has narrowed down the profit margins of many taxi operators, and their plight is compounded by the economic crunch, with the result that many drivers end up not having any patronage in a day, despite that over 20 million trips are made in the state daily.

Beginning of new regime
Determined to reposition the taxi system and make it the preferred last- mile shuttle option for many Lagosians, as contained in its strategic transportation master-plan, the Lagos State Government in 2008 began a reform of the process.

The reform started with the licensing of franchise cab operators. Under the scheme, the government gave operating licence to Corporate Taxis to run a fleet of taxi franchise. Under the scheme, an operator can have between 50 to 100 taxis in its fleet.

Between 2008 and 2014, the government licensed eight others, making nine franchise operators, the last being the Lagos State Taxi Drivers and Cab Operators Association which was permitted to use the Yellow colour of the state with the government logo.

The government also embarked on the collation of the data of operators and, in April, last year, gave 14,000 commercial taxi drivers operating under the Yellow Cabs new tradeable operating license. The ex-Commissioner for Transportation Kayode Opeifa, while issuing the new license, said the State’s Traffic Law 2012 forbade public transport operators from operating in the state without a license, while the drivers had to be regularly certified by the state’s driver’s institute (LASDRI).

Opeifa, who said the new initiative had opened the window of opportunity for operators to operate as corporate entities capable of enjoying the dividends of their new status, said when finally on stream, the new license regime would reposition the sector and create wealth for all operators as it would ensure that their operations are redistributed and all would be gainfully engaged.

“The taxi industry in Lagos going by our survey is worth N27 billion, but sadly, we have not seen anyone in that sector becoming a billionaire, so something must be wrong and we determined to redress this.

“Operators will through this system have the ability to refleet and exist as a corporate entity. They will also have the ability to employ people. They will also begin to enjoy so many things from government; and have access to new vehicles and loans. The license that would be given to them is also going to be an asset. They could use this license as collateral instrument to secure loans,” Opeifa said.
Fresh troubles

Despite the promises of the new instrument, the Akinwunmi Ambode government has, however, found that enforcing it is a herculean task. Operators, who were cooperative with the past government, have suddenly become hostile, with some of them vowing never to be part of the initiative.

A group known as the Oredegbe Drivers Association claimed the government cannot take them out of business. Regarding the Yellow Colour as one of the legacies of the Second Republic Governor, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the group said the Ambode government had no locus to insist it would no longer operate the colour.

Though several calls made to the phone numbers of Alhaji Saka Ayinde and other members of the leadership of this group were unanswered, a member who preferred not to be mentioned, because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, acknowledged that the government had been dialoguing with them, adding that the demands were too stringent for his members to implement.

The member said they were willing to shift grounds if the government would do same.
But the Director of Public Transportation and Commuter Service, Mr Bunmi Odukoya, said government was not in any position to compromise on the safety of citizens. He said any operator who wanted to be in business in the state should be ready to comply or take his trade elsewhere.

At the last count, four groups – the Oredegbe Drivers’ Association, the taxi driver’s section of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), and Self-Employed Cab Drivers Association of Nigeria (SECDAN) – the director said, have vowed not to have anything to do with the reform.

Odukoya, whose department drives the initiative, said the government had shown compassion to the groups, asking them to come together and form a group for the purpose of obtaining a franchise license if they did not want to operate under any group.

He said the members of these groups refused to work with any of the nine franchise operators and that soon the government would be left with no option than to apply the rules and chase them off the roads in spite of their age and experience.

He said the government was determined to sanitise the sector as part of its transportation master plan and would not allow some people or group to distort its initiatives aimed at ensuring that Lagosians got the best: safe and reliable taxi services at the least cost.
The Mainland branch Chairman of the Lagos State Taxi Drivers and Cabs Operators Association (LSTDCOAN), Debo Balogun, could not understand why some operators would gang up against the government in enforcing what was in the best interest of all.

He said the government, over four years ago, left no one in doubt of its determination to ensure that operators operated under a franchisee.

“The government went ahead to state that any operator who should liaise with any franchisee and register their vehicle under them for safety, security, of their passengers. Rather than comply, what we are getting is that these people have been protesting and have even gone to the House of Assembly, but the law must be complied with and as an operator, one can only appeal to them to comply so that we all would be able to move to the next level of this new initiative,” Balogun said.

He said though the initiative ought to have taken off in April, it could not as a result of the dispute, adding that government should go ahead as over 70 percent of the operators has been captured under the initiative.

“An average human being is an Oliver Twist. Even if the government says it will give these people till next year, these people will still not comply. Initially, the implementation was supposed to have taken off in January, then it was shifted to April. Now, it is in abeyance, if one takes into congnisance that this ought to have started since 2014 and had been delayed till now, then those arguing against further postponement have a valid point,’’ Balogun said.

Source: thenationonlineng.net

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