About 10,000 Lagosians do so every hour. LAGBUS and BRT are instantly recognizable features on Lagos streets; primarily because they offer a faster and cheaper option of transport public service across the city.
However, for a premium fare, some of LAGBUS’s buses provide more comfort with an air-conditioned option which visibly differentiates them from the BRT buses.
BRT Public Art Project By Rouen Smit at Future Cape Town — a This Big City partner site.
On days that I am so tired, I fall asleep as soon as I get onto the bus. On a few occasions I have been driven past my bus stop especially when I am travelling on LAGBUS’s air-conditioned services.
If only there was a public address system in the bus, the conductor or some on-board digital signage facility to announce our approach at various bus stops. That would have woken me up! (Then again, after a hard day’s work, maybe not).Funny enough, the conductors of the infamous yellow commercial buses better known as Danfo or their big brother — Molue; always announce approaching stops loudly. The first time I arrived at the Race Course bus terminal late, I looked around for a schedule information service without success. I walked up to an official but he could not be bothered about my plight as he was more interested in the “garage gossip”. My ever dependable smart phone alerted me to a major accident cutting off the flow of traffic from a return route of the buses. “Oh well, I will have to take the commercial bus then”. As I walked away weighing my alternatives, I heard the same BRT official snap at someone. Apparently, the man requested the same information I had just enquired about, the BRT staff seemed irritated at which point he complained about being tired of talking. “Abeg make una leave me alone jare. I no know when bus dey come. Mouth dey pain me”.
As I flagged down an approaching “danfo”, I looked pitifully at the long line of people waiting, each of them hoping that the next bus would arrive soon. Unfortunately, they were not privileged to the crucial piece of information I had. If only we could find out easily what services were available, to help us plan our journey on a regular or one off basis. I should not need to rely on my smartphone to find information about transport services relevant to me.
Despite having my own personal technology and the aid of newly available mobile apps like Giditraffic, I would appreciate technology provided for me at stops, on vehicles, at significant travel points with updates on the status of traffic and the intra-city transport network.
Keeping the Lagos Molue alive.
On my last trip to the UK, I remember the London Victoria Coach Station’s eight or so electronics screens displaying route schedules and the accompanying public address system notifying passengers of imminent departures and impending delays. I pondered to myself as to why we could not invest in effective use of technology for passenger information. It seems like a distant dream…for now.
Back to reality, at peak hours, the queue usually seems endless. Street vendors are seen hawking their wares while the people who sell tickets always seem to have a confused look on their faces but do not be deceived, they would take advantage and rip you of your money at the slightest hint of disorientation on your part.
As night falls I look around uneasily and hug my handbag closer as I look suspiciously at any male who wanders too close to me. The bus terminals are always situated close to motor parks and in some instances, share the same space with these parks.
It is so easy for these hoodlums who loom large to pick your pocket and blend into the crowd. Heaven knows how much more comfortable and safe I would feel at all times, knowing I am being watched over and can call for immediate help if necessary. Automated ticketing, smart travel cards, motion sensitive lights, interactive display modules, intelligent traffic management devices, remotely monitored CCTV cameras and better informed ready-to-assist service staff will certainly reduce my numerous anxieties at the bus stops.
It is probable that in the not so distant future I would get information about my travel service updated before and during my travel and communicated clearly to me and other passengers. A bus network and eventually a rail network too that provides flexible, safe and convenient service tailored to my travel needs, offering me reliable way to travel to and from work, school, shops and other locations is crucial. An integrated city-wide (or even state wide) real time communication, information and surveillance system suited for the digital age will go a long way to achieving this.
As a member of the staff team at WSE I realize technology integration poses a considerable challenge. At our South West Ikoyi office we have conversations about the public transportation system in Lagos as a passenger centred environment with great potential for deploying location based services through hand held devices, in-vehicle activity and physical interfaces.
Our conversations touch on what might be possible with insights from so many Lagosians who use public transport system today. We know we are likely to surprise ourselves when we apply relevant empirical evidence oriented expertise: social-listening, service design technology, urban Informatics, passenger movement, software development, ubiquitous computing , interaction design, mobile technology, data science, visual design and real-time passenger information systems.
One can only imagine large amounts of public data tucked out of view, from the number of school kids using buses before and after school hours through traffic updates to budgets corporations based in Lagos put aside to transport their staff to and from their offices. Just how many data sets might be available to data mine is anyone’s guess. In light of this, exploring ways to put city data into people’s hands, in order to improve commuters experience, should not be a problem technically.
GPS technology solutions that will do every thing from tracking exactly where a bus is located or coming from as well as figure out alternative commute options could send data to servers run by BRT or LAGBUS. In this scenario a LAGBUS Tracker could then in real time show passengers where they are on a user friendly way-finding map as well as estimate when they will arrive at any stop en-route to a bus’s final destination.
We need to shift beyond a world view where we see public transport primarily from its utilitarian perspective. At WSE we argue that much like individuals evolve symbolic and affective connections with their private vehicles, so do cities, citizens and passengers with their public transport. To this extent, it becomes essential we explore alternative approaches which capitalize on the inherent strengths of public transport, in Lagos.
A digitally augmented Lagos public transport environment to enhance the passengers’ experience for more enjoyable trips? I see daily aggravations of life reduced to some degree, in my mind’s eye.
I also realise a roadmap of digital technology in terms of how it adds value to lives of public transport users in Lagos is key. It might be an opportunity to empower and challenge insightful minds across technology, design and business ecosystem to demonstrate relevant innovation projects.
What this might feel and look like as a passenger-centric experience could be part of a product or service wish list. In addition to a product or service wishlist, there could be a model for rapid prototyping, idea ranking and incentives for participation. Taking ideas through prototyping and validation in a consistent way impacts issues such as risk mitigation, investment decisions, publicized social feedback in many languages and strategic growth of the public transport system.
The Lagos Light Rail Project might be a seminal opportunity. Perhaps this is one of many issues which the next Governor of Lagos State would have to contend with on his or her to do list?
A man works on a train track of the Blue Line of the light rail system under construction in Lagos, Nigeria.
Cover Image, A BRT bus operating on the BRT lane in a congested area. | This piece is a co-edited (with Hilda Adeogun) version. An original version is posted on WSE.