With the recent arrival of a fleet of new buses, Gabon’s capital city of Libreville is set for a welcome relief to the traffic congestion that clogs its main thoroughfares. To maximise efficiency, the country’s transport authority is in the planning stages of widening streets and dedicating a special bus lane on main routes.

Meanwhile, the authority has ordered 100 metered taxis, which are currently being rolled out across the city. As more than a third of the country’s 1.6m people live in this coastal city and much of its commerce passes through Port-Mole, the new system is expected to do much to boost the speed and reach of the city’s urban transit, free up the roads for lorries carrying goods and improve the efficiency of the economy.

The recent investments in urban transit form part of a package of infrastructure spending launched under the Emerging Gabon national development plan, aimed at diversifying the economy away from dependence on hydrocarbons. Oil and gas have been the dominant sector since the 1970s but production peaked in 1997 at 370,000 barrels per day and has since declined by one-third as large oil fields have matured. Oil accounts for about half of Gabon’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In A Faster Lane

Société Gabonaise de Transport (SOGATRA), which manages Libreville’s urban transit, received an order of 28 new buses at the start of 2014, with 121 more set to arrive by the end of the year. Each vehicle has 45 seats plus room for 30 people standing, bringing total operational capacity to more than 11,000 passengers. The shipments follow a purchase agreement that was signed in November 2013 between the government and Brazilian bus-manufacturer Marcopolo for CFA7.5bn (€10.5m).

“To solve the problem of congestion at Libreville, we will adopt the so-called “BRT” (bus route transit or bus lanes). Elsewhere, there are no traffic jams regarding the bus because there is a corridor reserved for them, and [this] allows bus or taxi-meters…[to] move on,” Alain Paul Ndjoubi Ossamy, the CEO of SOGATRA, told local radio. In the second phase of the urban transit plan, SOGATRA ordered 100 taxis in late March 2014. The Ford vehicles – painted in the green, yellow and blue tri-colour of the Gabonese flag – are equipped with meters, GPS, Wi-Fi, air conditioning and video surveillance. Each taxi’s meter will also have an in-vehicle ticket printer showing the price and distance travelled.

Planning Stages

Ordering the new vehicles is only the first step, however. To plan and implement the new transport system, the Ministry of Transport in March formed a partnership with the African Association of Public Transport (Union Africaine des Transports Publics, UATP), a pan-African agency based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, which will provide technical assistance and advice. In late May, the partners held a series of consultation sessions with SOGATRA and other players in the transport sector. During a week of meetings, the authorities discussed how to expand roads to accommodate the buses, draw up routes and schedules, and market the system to the public, as well as pricing, commercial viability and long-term business sustainability.

“The important aims here are not only to ensure access to public transport for the majority, but also to balance this with profitability,” said Zoro Bi Nagone, secretary-general of the UATP.

Hub & Spokes

With the vehicles strategically located in prime locations such as large hotels, supermarkets, the main train station and the Léon Mba International Airport, the aim is to streamline the flow of people moving not only throughout the city, but also to and from Akanda, a new upscale community north of the capital, and Owendo, a port city to the south and west. Owendo forms the end of the Trans-Gabon Railway, which stretches 670 km inland to Franceville, Gabon’s fourth-largest city, near the border with the Republic of the Congo. It is an important artery for freight such as timber, the country’s second-largest industry, as well as mining. With the government working to boost domestic processing of lumber and manganese resources within the country, the Libreville suburb serves as a natural centre for future industrial growth.