Lagos Traffic Gridlock, Road Safety And Traffic Radio

June 19, 2012 – Man has always tried to evolve safer and faster means of transportation. From the steam engine age of 1700s to the modern dispensation, a remarkable progress has been made in the transportation sector across the world. The place of transportation in world economic order cannot be overemphasized. Current advancement in transportation has made movement across the globe a lot more convenient.

In developed countries, particularly the United States of America, the government is working on green-car vehicles that can consume both ethanol and gasoline to meet 2015 environmental goals, travelling has become a luxury and pastime. In more advanced countries, governments have put in place an efficient public transport system that enables their citizens to experience secure, fast and comfortable travels.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, irrespective of class, travelling can be harrowing. Our transportation system is yet to fully tap into the inter-modal system of transportation being practiced in more advanced climes. The bane of the system has been over reliance on the road option. This concentration on road transport is worsened by poor state of the road network across the country resulting in avoidable high rate of  accidents and traffic gridlock.

Millions of people deal with traffic congestion on a daily basis. The roadways leading into and out of major cities become gridlock due to various reasons ranging from poor state of road infrastructure, accident, ignorance of alternate roads, or simply high number of cars on the road. Specifically, Lagos, Rivers, Ogun and Abuja record a high number of traffic congestion during different times and days of the week. This congestion can have a number of effects on drivers, the environment, health and the economy.

One of the harmful effects of traffic congestion is its impact on the environment. Vehicles, especially road unworthy ones, stuck in traffic produce a large volume of harmful carbon emissions which contribute to global warming. Besides global warming, these emissions can cause more short term and localised problems, such as smog and increase respiratory problems. In addition, traffic jam can lead to road rage. Drivers who become impatient may be more likely to drive aggressively or dangerously.

The gridlock also has economic impact. Drivers who encounter unexpected traffic may be late for work or other appointments, causing a loss in productivity for businesses and in the drivers’ personal lives. It is this same challenge that led to the evolution of Okada (commercial motorcycles) as conventional means of transport and the menace of Okada riders. In a place like Lagos, when there is traffic, determining the amount of transport fare to expend is automatically beyond the commuters. In any case, traffic gridlock increases fuel consumption by vehicles though not to the extent at which transporters exploit hapless commuters. Now with recent security threats across the country, traffic gridlock also poses serious security challenge.

Inarguably, transportation is very important to all Nigerians as it is to people of all civilised countries, hence, the harrowing experience of wasting precious time and life due to traffic jam must not continue. The challenge then is how do we reverse this trend? First, the problem did not start in a day and solution will not come in a day. But it is undeniable that solution to this road monster requires creative, pro-active and bold initiative for the transport sector to truly become a wheel of opportunities which it is in other lands.

It is in cognizance of this that the Lagos State government within its capacity under our pseudo-federalism has, in the last twelve years, been making serious effort and holistic approach to connect with new realities that will facilitate improvement in the sector. From the establishment of LASTMA, BRT system, LAGBUS, Light Rail, modern taxi scheme to the construction of bus terminals and the new traffic radio, the goal of  massive investment in the transport sector by the state government is to ensure free flow of traffic, road safety and social and economic development.

In order to reduce the burden on roads, government has started exploring alternative mode of transportation such as rail and water. To this end, it has approved a 7-rail Road Network designed by LAMATA. Implementation of two of the Rail lines namely; Red Line to run from Agbado to Marina and Blue Line to run from Okokomaiko to Marina, has already begun.

Equally, as part of its effort to ensure sanity on the road and to positively change the driving culture of motorists, the government established the Lagos State Drivers’ Institute. The Institute, which has centres in all the five Divisions of the state, is equipped with eye testing equipment, computerised driving simulators, biometric data capture and data base equipment.

With over 3 million cars and 100,000 commercial vehicles on the roads (when the national average is 11 vehicles per kilometre), Lagos daily records an average of 227 vehicles per kilometre of roads. Hence, the traffic problem remains intractable. But to the BRF government, the challenge is daunting but not insurmountable. This has spurred the government to introduce yet another innovation in traffic control and road safety. This latest innovation is the new Lagos Traffic Radio which transmits on 96.1 FM.

It might be asked: what is the nexus between traffic gridlock, road safety and Lagos Traffic Radio? One thing that is very clear is that effective governance in any society is built on solid communication network. So Traffic Radio is established to provide efficient means of empowering commuters and motorists with needed information on the situation of the roads within the different axis of Lagos at any point in time.

Equally, the station is an invaluable avenue for the education of the people on the best traffic and road use practices and also form a feedback system for data and correspondence between the government and the populace in agreement with Daniel Lerner’s (communication scholar) assertion that ‘Mass Media Networks are distinct index of mass mobilisation- of the participant society (democracy).

Though Lagos has huge concentration of media houses, traffic radio which runs 24 hours service, is a well-thought out problem solving innovation. It enables the station  receive and broadcast instantly traffic news. It teaches Mass communication students practical citizen journalism as motorists, commuters, passers-by, LASTMA officials call-in from time to time to file-in their report and at the same time respond to questions from the station’s anchors on duty. In other words, while officials of LASTMA could be referred to as chief correspondents, it makes all interested Lagosians news correspondents.

A seasoned communication scholar, John C. Merrill had aptly brought out the uniqueness of the mass media in the society when he said that “…there is nothing in this world that I don’t doubt- a doubt requires a doubter- I doubt more when I am not communicated with- because I believe that communication is so central to human activities that denial of it is a betrayal of societal peace and stability.”

With this Traffic Radio, which will inevitably put more pressure on the Ministry of Transportation and LASTMA in particular, only chronic cynics will doubt the openness and commitment of the state government in striving to achieve best results in traffic management and control.

The apt statement here is that transportation would not be possible without communication. It depends on communication just as communication depends on transportation. Road signs and traffic lights ensure orderliness for automobiles and trucks plying highways. Automatic block signals and other means of communication enable railroads to operate safely. Air planes cannot land and take off safely without radio, radar, and other electronic communication devices. Traffic radio has a more bigger role to play.

This is the essence of the innovation. This is the nexus. Fasten your seat belt, avoid phone calls while driving as you  listen to Lagos Traffic Radio 96.1 FM.

•Musbau is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.