It is perhaps unsurprising that Nigeria’s transportation problem is most acute in Lagos, the country’s largest city with a population that is estimated to range from anywhere between 10m and 17m people. The transportation challenge is one of the top priorities for the city and for the state of Lagos, which governs an area that includes the city proper and its environs, due to the inchoate urban planning that characterises some outlying districts. The issue spills over into neighbouring states, but the future of transportation in the urban area is being developed primarily by Lagos, along with the Federal Ministry of Transport and the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA).

SIZE & SCOPE: LAMATA figures indicate the size and scope of the problem: the average Lagosian spends 40% of his or her income on transportation. This means that the hours of economic activity lost to journeys are worth an estimated $7.5m daily. Whilst the state is working to increase the efficiency of the existing transportation network, incremental measures will not be enough. Projections from the state agency indicate that the number of privately owned vehicles in the state will balloon by 250% in the next 25 years, going from 80 per 1000 people to 200.

An estimated 18m passenger trips are made daily, with 40% of them by foot. Of the rest, bus journeys account for 68%. The state is looking to address these problems with a multi-pronged plan that starts with infrastructure building and focuses on public transport. The master plan for the sector includes seven metro lines, two monorails, nine bus-rapid-transit (BRT) routes and 11 water routes for passenger ferries. Urban planners at LAMATA believe the metro and BRT systems would cut the number of car trips in Lagos by more than 20%. According to a LAMATA presentation made by Sumitomo, a Japanese firm working with the agency, these systems are expected to reduce the proportion of total journeys made by car and bus from 87% in 2011 to 60% in 2030.

RING ROAD: Beyond public transit, a 99-km ring road is envisioned, taking some of the load off existing routes. A route has been designed, and as of late 2013 the government was seeking a private sector partner to build it under a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement.

In addition, the existing network also needs improvements, such as building local roads connecting adjacent neighbourhoods. In many cases, drivers must go out of their way on a main artery simply to circle back to access nearby roads, adding time and distance to their journeys as well as congestion to the overall system. The plan also includes a focus on east-west arteries within the city, which are lacking in comparison with north-south routes.

METRO: However, it is the expansion of public transport that is expected to have the most effect on the city’s transport infrastructure. The addition of a metro system, for example, would have the most passenger capacity and thus the most impact.

Lagos envisions a network of light-rail routes with a capacity to move 3.1m riders a day across seven proposed lines. It calls for 251 km of tracks, which the government expects to cost between $30m and $40m per kilometre, implying a total value between $7.5bn and $10bn. One proposed line, the Red Line, stands out for its commercial potential because it runs between Ikeja, home to many of the state bureaucracies, and Marina, the district on Lagos Island that serves as a downtown. Planners expect 800,000 passenger trips per day on the potential line, nearly double that of the next-busiest line at 420,000. The financing burden of the project is sizeable, so the state strategy includes courting private sector participation through PPPs, with the government willing to shoulder a larger share of the costs and responsibility for the lines that are less commercially appealing. Though the state has declared its intention to be flexible on deal structures, as a rule it expects to build the railroads and other fixed assets itself, with private partners owning and deploying rolling stock and other moveable assets. This model is typical of such PPP arrangements elsewhere, according to LAMATA.

URBAN PLANNING: One of the proposed metro lines is already under construction on the Lagos mainland. The Blue Line, as it is known, is a 27-km route with 13 stops heading east from Marina. Commercial activity has spread out beyond this area, reducing its importance as a central business district (CBD), and in the future state urban planners envision spreading out CBD-type functions throughout the city in 28 locations.

Marina remains an important district in the transport network, however, and four of the seven planned lines go there. The route will in large part parallel a portion of the Lagos-Badagry east-west expressway that extends to Nigeria’s south-west border with Benin. About 80% of the Blue Line will be built in the median of the roadway, which is being expanded to 10 lanes, though progress on the rail aspect of this transportation corridor will not come until the road is complete, according to LAMATA. A strategy for building the remainder of the line has not been mandated, and as of mid-2013 the state was debating what section should be next built. The expectation is that the line’s eastern stations, from Marina and running west, would come first. State officials were targeting initial services on part of the line in 2014, with final arrival in Marina set for 2017.

The PPP agreement for the Blue Line makes the state responsible for building fixed infrastructure, such as the track itself and the metro stops. The private sector partner, a purpose-formed consortium called Ekorail, led by Nigerian firm Verod Capital Management, will provide the rolling stock and other non-fixed gear and operate the line.

POWER UP: Electricity to power the metro cars is also the responsibility of the concessionaire. Ekorail debated buying diesel-powered rolling stock in part because of Nigeria’s electricity shortage, but decided that the cost savings from an available fleet of used electric cars for sale by the Toronto Transit Commission made it worthwhile to build a 25-MW power plant for the line.

LAMATA hopes that this model will replicate itself for the other lines, and that excess capacity from dedicated power plants can be fed into Nigeria’s electricity grid to earn additional revenue. The 225 cars, manufactured by the now-defunct Hawker Siddely, are expected to handle the needs of both the Blue and Red lines. According to press statements, Ekorail saved $100m in capital costs by buying used cars instead of new ones.

Looking ahead, the next line to be built will likely be the Red Line, although LAMATA told OBG that a redesign of the entire plan may be on the cards, in part based on concerns about affordability. Indeed, the seven-line system is a plan that dates back to the 1980s, and financing challenges have led to delays since the project was first mooted.

BRT: Second in importance as measured by the ability to get people out of cars and off the roads in Lagos is the BRT system, which is currently planned to have seven lines. One is already operational, running from Lagos Island almost due north on Ikorodu Road, a major artery. The city has cited it as the cause for a 6% drop in traffic here.

The whole plan is for 145 km of BRT routes, which together are expected to have a carrying capacity of 120,000 passengers per hour. LAMATA estimates the construction cost at between $6m and $10m per kilometre, suggesting a master plan with a price tag of at least $870m but not more than $1.5bn. There are two current operators of BRT services in the country: LAGBUS, the existing public operator of bus services in the city, and the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).

The latter is a union of operators of private yellow minibuses called danfos. LAMATA offered these groups a stake in the process to ward off opposition to the reform. The state agreed to develop the infrastructure and guarantee a loan for the operators to buy buses to use on the routes. The operators initially bought 120 vehicles, later adding another 80, and managed to pay back their loan ahead of schedule, according to LAMATA.

The agency believes that the success of the NURTW BRT lines has proven to entrepreneurs that the transportation sector is an area where profits can be realised for the private sector, and that further private investment in the master plan in the future will come more easily as a result.

WATERWAYS: Further into the future, Lagos aims to develop the necessary infrastructure for 11 passenger ferry routes to complement its land-based public transportation. Ferries have played a larger role in the past, and although some small private operators currently exist, the hope is that building the necessary docks and passenger facilities will help revitalise the sector over the coming period.