29 July 2012

Nigeria: Insecurity - Influx of Commercial Buses Hit Abuja, Causes Competition

The intensity of insecurity in some states neighboring the Federal Capital Territory has caused the influx of many more commercial buses, popularly known as araba in the capital, leading to massive competition and plenty of such vehicles in the city and its suburbs.

However, one of the major implications of this, especially, as it affects the commercial bus business is the fact that they (bus operators) experience low patronage as there are a lot of them plying the various FCT routes, especially leading to the suburbs.

"We are not really enjoying business these days. Because of the insecurity and bombings in some Northern states, most commercial bus drivers operating in such states have relocated to Abuja and change their paints to green, white, green and have also hit the road with us, making our number so many that passengers are now kings," said Magnus Igwe, a commercial bus driver who plies his trade along the popular Wuse-Kubwa route.

He also revealed that the competition has made it compulsory for Abuja commercial bus operators to upgrade their vehicles if they really want to get decent patronage. The passengers now select the buses they board; unlike before that all they care about was how to get home.

"Now your seats have to be neat, you also need good music system inside the araba, even the body of the vehicle has to be clean if not you would not be able to balance up to your principal talk less of making something reasonable for yourself," Igwe added.

When our reporter visited the busy Wuse market, a place that serves as the central terminus for the araba buses, it was discovered that the buses' assistants mostly charge N100 regardless of the distance , unlike the N150 they resorted to when the fuel price hike that heralded the fuel subsidy regime started initially.

A middle aged man, Yusuf who assists the bus drivers in attracting passengers around the popular Wuse market said passengers don't come-by easily like before.

"Now where subsidy bus exists everywhere it is not easy to get passengers. Most of these women prefer the subsidy bus, because their fares are low and their seats are fine, and spacious only three people per seat."

Passengers who boarded a bus going to Dei-Dei paid N100, unlike the former N150. The buses don't have a unified price for their operations. Everybody is on their own with their modus operandi, more like a survival of the fittest affair. If a particular bus refuses a passenger for that amount, within split seconds the next bus would pick the same passenger, so most of them have understood the regime, thus, hardly refuse.

So also buses to Kubwa, Nyanya and a host of other satellite towns and suburbs charge within the N100 range from Wuse. In fact, some within more sitting capacity charge even lower than that. Some cut it down to N70 just to attract unsuspecting passengers, regardless of the rush hour.

Technically, the rush hour theory that the araba buses' operators hitherto used is not very effective these days in Abuja due to excess availability of the commercial vehicles.

However, Ike Darlington, a member of the Self Employed Commercial Drivers Association, Abuja (SECDAA) said business is not really lucrative for him these days; he attributed the problems to the raining season, the excess number of vehicles that have joined them in the business lately.

"Go to Wuse and see buses in their large numbers, the passengers are there but the buses are just too many. Now the business is load it is only God that helps us. You'll buy fuel, services our vehicles and still compete with government that is services by government and charged lesser amount. It is a difficult situation for us. Also these drivers that just came into Abuja from some neighboring states just collect 'any' amount the passengers' asked."

He further said that since the hike in fuel price, a lot of private car owners have now become 'semi' commercial drivers. Meaning, they have resorted to picking up passengers, collect money just like commercial taxis and buses in a bid to augment the price of fuel.

"These private car owners have lured a lot of passengers. Before now, most people come to Wuse or some central points to board vehicles home but now almost every nook and cranny, there are private cars that call-up passengers, so the passengers don't need to go to those central points to board. All these are part of the challenges."

He said most people prefer the private cars because they mostly take just few people and the condition of the cars are preferable.

"The passengers prefer to wait for such private owners to close form work so that they can join them. They are mostly government workers. They take just 3 at the back and 1 in the front seat for the same N100 in most cases."

He also said most Abuja residents are buying their personal cars to avoid the difficulty involved in commuting in the city.

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