Ethiopia: Mass Transportation Mess - the Poor Traffic Management in Addis Abeba

Traffic jam in Addis Ababa

Mass Transportation Mess - the Poor Traffic Management in Addis Abeba

By Brook Abdu

The road from Megenagna to Stadium, especially on weekdays, makes commuting difficult for people like Shemisa Nuru, who use the public mass transportation system. She has to take one taxi to Kazanchis, a mid-way point, and another from there to Stadium.

"I was at the bridge, where I saw a lot of idle taxis," she said in frustration. "I have been here for almost half an hour and not a single taxi has appeared to go to Stadium."

This is a common experience for many commuters in the city with an estimated population of three million. Inadequate supply, infrastructure and poor management of the service, are to blame.

"The public transport service vehicles do not make the required number of trips, especially during peak hours," Yabibal Addis, head of the Addis Abeba Transport Bureau (AATB), lamented.

In Addis Abeba, there are 7,500 blue and white painted minibus taxis, 800 operational buses managed by the state-owned Anbessa City Bus Service Enterprise, 500 Higer midi buses, 25 privately owned Alliance Transport S.C. buses, supported by 4,000 white minibuses and 400 cross-country buses.

The Anbessa buses transport 1.2 million people a day while Alliance buses transport 25,000 commuters. The Higer midi buses transport 700,000 commuters while the blue and white minibuses carry 1.1 million travellers every day as data from the AATB in 2014 indicate.

In addition, 199 of the planned 410 buses, that transport civil servants to and from work, provide a paid service for the general public during the rest of the day.

But all these means of transportation are not quite enough to fulfill the ever growing demand that is seen in the city.

During peak hours, such as at mornings when commuters go to work, many taxis remain idle to avoid the traffic congestion, Yabibal pointed out.

But taxi owners are seeking an increase in passenger fares in order to operate full-time, according to Yibeltal Abate, chair of Nisir Taxi Owners' Association

The higher fare would even make them go longer distances with fewer or no passengers.

They are likely to have their way, Yabibal opined, saying it is a legitimate question which is being considered by the Transport Bureau.

Taxi driver Gashu Ayew, shared the idea as he argued with line managers, known as Tera Askebariwoch, at Stadium, not to take travellers to Kazanchis. He had been sitting on a stone by the roadside playing with his vehicle keys on his fingers and chatting with other drivers who were waiting their turn to start loading passengers to Megenagna and Haya Hulet.

"I will not go this short distance as I will not find passengers midway," he reasoned. "I pay more for fuel than I get from fares I charge."

The distribution of taxis to the city's terminals was done in 2011 and has not yet been revised, but it will be subject to revision because of the coming light rail transit (LRT). Taxis that were working on routes in the lines of the LRT will be minimised and distributed to other places where the need for them is high.

Though none of the experts with whom Fortune spoke mentioned this, it is worthy of note that except for the LRT, the transportation infrastructure in the city does not have provision for people with disabilities. The LRT has escalators installed at some stations with elderly persons and those with disabilities in mind.

But for Manaye Ewnetu (PhD), managing director of ME Consulting Engineers, a firm that mainly engages in transportation system consultancies, most recently the LRT, the reason goes far beyond the factors stated both by the office and the associations.

"It is lack of proper system management and poor planning that does not include traffic flow," he argues. "But taxis that are not working during peak hours are like restaurants that refuse to serve meals at lunch time."

For him what has been hindering the improvement of the transportation system in the city is the insufficient number of public transport service vehicles and their mismanagement. He sees the need for an integrated plan that takes into consideration, the development of industries and existing villages.

"The planning should consider bringing schools, hospitals or other services close to the people so that they can access their needs from their localities," he argued.

Other problems that the Transport Bureau has identified as contributing to poor traffic flow management are challenges posed by road infrastructure and poor maintenance.

During the 2013/14 fiscal year, the Addis Abeba City Roads Authority announced the road coverage of the city reached to 17.5pc, which was 15.64pc in the preceding fiscal year. The Authority planned to push the road coverage of the City to 25pc by the end of 2020.

"The renewal of roads that took longer time and the unpainted roads are current challenges of the transport system in the city," Yabibal stated.

But this is a simple issue for Manaye if the existing road network is properly used, if the country develops regulations to govern roadside parking, and if roadside businesses are not established so close to the road.

"Such businesses need to go out of town to make the transportation effective," he suggested, further identifying "water, electricity, and road construction [which] are all made by separate bodies that do not work together to solve common problems."

As a short-term solution, the Transport Bureau has distributed supportive buses in 96 major problematic areas and made Anbessa buses work in an additional 34 directions, tallying up to 157 lines, according to Yabibal.

But, although the bureau tries to increase the number of the transporters in the city, there are no new entrants in the taxi business and even the existing ones are withdrawing from their jobs, according to Yibeltal.

For Manaye, who looks forward to the completion of the 34Km LRT in the city to help ease the transportation burden, the engagement of public-private partnership (PPP) in the transportation investment is vital in the long run.

"There needs to be private sector investment in the transportation business, which will make it more competitive and effective," he said, adding that the involvement of private investors can also offer transport services to people with different economic status.

The Bureau, together with the Federal Transport Authority (FTA) has embarked on a new system that allows private sector involvement in the duty free importation of buses through a 70pc loan arrangement from the government. The first round will see 500 buses imported.

"As a government, we do not believe that small-scale transportation can solve the problems of the city; we are focusing on mass transportation," says Yabibal.

In addition to the government owned Anbessa and Public Service buses, the Bureau is also establishing a new city transportation enterprise that has ordered 300 buses from the Metals & Engineering Corporation (MetEC). They are expected to start operation by October, 2015.

"By the end of the second Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP II), the city will need nearly 3,000 buses as our household survey indicates," Yabibal emphasised.

This estimate is made considering that the number of commuters is expected to grow to four million in the next five years and considering that one bus will transport 100 people per trip, making eight to 10 trips per day.

But, the coming of this additional transportation is not a magical solution that will transform the city's transportation system to elevated levels as the expert sees. There needs to be better management of infrastructure development.

The Addis Abeba City Administration has also planned to construct fast bus lanes, which will extend in eight corridors. Construction of the first one is expected to start by the end of the 2015/16 fiscal year.

A new government directive has also been issued by the FTA, "for the Provision of License, Control and Vehicles Specification for Vehicles to be bought by Private Investors in Loan and Duty Free", which encourages Addis Abeba public transport associations to form share companies to improve city transport in the city. As the name suggests, this comes with incentives, which include duty free import and loan facilities.

For improved management, three bodies have been established that will be accountable to the Bureau. These are the Public & Freight Transport Authority, Drivers and Vehicles Inspection & Control Authority and the Traffic Management Agency which will be responsible for the traffic flow of the city.

"The deficiency of efficient and trained human resource is another hindrance that drags the effective implementation of plans," Manaye argued.

With all the initiatives that have been taken by the Bureau the lines of people waiting for transportation have never decreased.