Perhaps expectations were not realistic; and it may be much too soon to assess the impact of the limited light rail transit services on the overwhelming shortage of mass transportation in the city. LUCY KASSA, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER talks with users of the new service and providers of the alternatives, and finds the excitement of the LRT’s launch tinged with disappointment.
Among the people sitting at the Anbessa Bus Station seats at Legahar, waiting for the number 67 bus to Kaliti was Bekele Ejeta, 38, a public servant. He had been waiting for 15 minutes, when Fortune met him. He had been at the stadium with friends, and he chose the bus over the train to return home to Saris.
After the light rail transit service was launched on Sunday September 20, 2015, he had used it once, and that was enough for him.
“I used it one morning when I left home, but the service that I found was not what I had expected,” he complained. “When I heard that the light rail transit service would be launched last week, I was very excited, expecting that the transportation hassles I face every day would no longer continue. But that was only a dream,” Bekele said.
Even though the transportation challenges in terms of the availability of balanced transportation services in line with the growing population of the city are not a new scenario, it was in August 2011 that the first initiative to reduce the problem of transportation was made by framing transport policy. The policy was drafted with a general objective of providing reasonably priced, safe, efficient, accessible and comfortable transport services to the city’s residents.
Two issues the policy emphasised were expansion of transport infrastructure and integration of the city’s transportation institutions, which also have capacity limitations.
In June, 2014, the Addis Abeba City Administration Transport Bureau (AACATB) put a restriction on the transfer of taxis registered in Addis Abeba, to locations outside the city through any kind of sale, to resolve the gap in transportation supply. Another decision which preceded that one by a year, banned taxis from changing their codes, forcing them to continue as taxis.
The fragmented efforts of balancing the supply of transportation were not limited to the above bans. Anbessa City Transport Service Enterprise, which was under Privatization & Public Enterprises Supervisory Agency and is now under the city’s administration, has added more buses, to bolster a system that already has other buses, including Higer buses, as well as blue and white and other minibuses. Despite its limitations, the light rail transit that began giving service one week ago is the latest addition.
Binyam Assefa has been a mini bus taxi driver for over 10 years. For him the railway transportation services may have a contribution in meeting the demand, although he doubts the transportation problem will be eliminated.
“The same hopes and the same expectations were there when the Higer buses were introduced,” he remembered. “There was even a saying that ‘taxis would no more appear in the sector’. But that did not happen, because the demand for quality transportation services was not yet realised.”
The ultimate policy drive is to remove the minibus taxis from the sector and replace them by mass transportation systems mainly by buses, because they have higher emissions and are crowding the city, according to an official closed to the case. To implement its ultimate goal and resolve the shortage of the transportation facilities, the Federal Transportation Authority had told taxi owners to organise themselves into share companies, after which the government would extend to them as much as 70pc loan financing in a bid to introduce 500 buses into the transport service; the vehicles would also be imported duty free.
Demand still outstrips supply in a city where transport coverage is 60pc, according to an official at the Authority.
Birhanu Degefa a Lada taxi driver welcomes the mass transportation efforts the government is steering, which he says is an indication of the government’s attention to the private transport sector. But he has doubts about the efforts, stressing that the initiatives need to be supported by clear directives and frameworks.
“Even though the previous and current efforts are good in resolving the transportation problem of the city, the trend is that there is no clearly defined body that takes responsibility for their implementation. After some time they cease,” Birhanu said.
A driver at Anbessa, Kedanemaryam Weldegiorgis, notes that the challenge to quality and efficient services was not only the shortage of transportation facilities, but also, and more importantly, the lack of well skilled management expertise and systems.
Beside the Lada taxis which are being organised through the Authority, minibus taxi associations are also organising themselves under companies.
The government had been thinking about forcing the minibus taxis out of the market by introducing mass transport buses into the market as early as when the LRT project was initiated. Now with commencement of the LRT service, the Addis Abeba Transport Authority is considering making adjustments to the other transport services in the city, although officials are not saying much about it.
“It is early to make adjustments. The light rail way transportation system has not fully started operation. It is just one line so far and we are planning on the adjustment,” replied Communications Officer at the Addis Abeba Transport Authority, Genet Dibaba, when asked if there would be any adjustments of the service by the sector following the LRT launch.
Now in its first week, the service was far from satisfactory for Bekele, who had expected a lower fare, less waiting time, less crowding and more speed.
“I was forced to wait for more than 45 minutes until the train arrived at the Kaliti terminal.” he said.
Once in he was disappointed that he had to stand all the way, pushing with the big crowd inside. It was the same in the Anbessa buses, he said, but at least he paid less there.
“The service charge for the railway services is four Birr with all the discomfort and waiting. But I could get the same service on the same line by Anbessa bus for only two Birr,” he complained.
Another commuter, Defaru Awese, a cook, used the LRT two times before deciding to stick to the Higer buses and taxis. His reason was that the waiting was still the same and the price almost the same as taxis.
“But still my expectations are not met in terms of speed and waiting hours,” said Defaru.
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