Rural-urban migration has strained Addis Abeba for long. From unemployment to lack of basic facilities, urbanisation brings with it many problems; yet, one that surfaces time and again stirring public discontent is inadequate transportation. The launching of the Light Rail Transit brought a glimmer of hope with it. Albeit, this relief was shortlived. Stuffed to the brim, boarding these trains has now become a matter of luck. The addition of more vehicles for public transport only aggravates the existing traffic menace the capital is struggling with, reports SAMSON BERHANE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
It is no wonder that the salesperson, Samrawit Alemu, was disappointed these past days when she found herself stuck on a delayed train while on the way to her office. Although a quick commute, a delay meant arriving late at work and eventually being blacklisted.
Living roughly 25Km from her workplace around Ayer Tena, Samrawit, 23, has been regularly using a train for the past eight months. Since then, she always tries to board the train scheduled at 7:00am.
Unfortunately, there are days when she arrives five minutes after the train leaves. Unlike the existing situation, this did not worry Samrawit- who pays four Birr for her journey from Torhailoch to CMC- as all she had to do was wait for an additional 15 minutes to catch the next train.
But, that window of opportunity seems to be narrowing down recently.
“I cannot afford to be late. Otherwise, overcrowding follows,” said Samrawit, who was waiting for over half an hour to board a train in Torhailoch.
Since the past month, as rail user experiences indicate, catching the train in the capital, particularly in the morning and late at night, has become a physical sport; something commuters are just not ready for. It is usual to witness at least 30 people, who are rushing to their work, waiting for trains in the morning.
The physical struggle to take over someone’s spot on the train – let alone a seat- is like a delicate form of Judo without rules. For Addis Abebans- who are already fed up with the city’s transportation shortage- squeezing into whatever space they can find on a train has already become a part of everyday life.
It is not only the delay in the arrival of trains but the overall inadequacy of public transport facilities in proportion to commuters that is making the public cringe at the thought of being unable to reach their workplaces on time. Additionally, the existing transportation system in the capital is characterised by the chaotic traffic flow and congestion.
Mobility flows have been a critical dynamic in the urbanisation process of Addis Abeba. However, despite the increasing levels of urban mobility in the city, access to activities, services, and places is becoming increasingly tricky regarding convenience, cost and time.
Being one of the 10 largest cities in sub-Saharan Africa, the population of Addis has reached 3.3 million, which in 2020 is projected to reach eight million.
With the demand for transport facilities doubling in the past two decades, frequently, many people are seen queuing up along the roads, at bus stations and other transit points for lack of public transport services.
Realising that the problem had gone through the roof, the government, through the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC), hired China Railway Group to build the nation’s first electrified railway in the capital with a cost of close to half a billion dollars. About 85pc of the finance was covered by China’s Export-Import Bank, while the rest was funded from Ethiopian government’s coffer.
Stretching over 34Km, it has two lines; the east-west corridor linking Ayat to Torhailoch; the north-south line that extends from Menelik II Square to Qaliti.
The new railway service was meant to alleviate the city’s transportation shortage and ease traffic congestion. With the same hope, the city brought in 200 Alliance buses, 1,000-metre taxis and 50 Sheger buses in the past fiscal year, adding to the existing 12,000 taxis operating in the capital.
Despite the optimism, the issue is far from being over for commuters like Meseret Tsegaye. She started to use trains regularly as the shortage in the number of taxis affected her routine.
“The trains saved my time,” said Meseret, who lives in Qaliti- an area is known to be the gate of the nation’s 70pc of imports; thus, the most congested.
But, recently she is having mixed feelings about her new mode.
“It is not as accessible as it used to be,” she said.
In the morning, commuters like Meseret have to wait for at least half an hour to board the trains. The situation worsens during the nights, taking as much as 40 minutes.
However, it gets better when most employees go out from work, and students leave schools at around 4:00pm. During such time, trains arrive to transport commuters every 15 minutes- the target set to be achieved at the beginning of the railway service.
No doubt, ever since the introduction of the service, the railway has contributed positively to the city’s transportation system. In the past fiscal year alone, 30 million travelers were recorded by the Addis Abeba Light Rail Transit (AA-LRT). This means, on average, over 80,000 people used the train daily, earning the Service over 110 million Br from commuters; although it did not cover its expenditure.
Despite the increase in the number of users year-on-year, the Service had not been without its drawbacks. Primarily due to the shortage of spare parts, it was unable to operate at full capacity.
Since June 2016, the number of operational trains stands at 28, while the remaining 13 are not operational.
The lack of a binding contract for the supply of spare parts between Ethiopian Railways Corporation and China Railway prevented the Service to repair the trains in the short term, according to sources.
“We are in the process of procuring spare parts,” said Aweke Mulu, communications director of the Light Rail Service, acknowledging the shortage in the number of trains.
This year, a thesis undertaken by Getaw Shumye Ali at Alpha University showed that the Railway Corporation did not thoroughly investigate factors, such as the lack of spare parts, that affect the post-completion sustainability of the Railway.
“Assessing the post-completion sustainability of any project is crucial before launching and running it,” reads the Study.
Despite the challenges, the City’s Administration, in its master plan, intends to expand the Addis Abeba Light Railway System from St George Church to Sheromeda, Ayat to Tafo Square, Qality to Aqaqi and Torhailoch to Jemo.
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