Going Underground


The next route for transport improvements



Despite heavy investment in Addis Abeba's transport systems, there are still clear indications of its inadequacy in serving the city's ever expanding population. Long queues at bus lines, roads crammed full of traffic and an increasing number of road accidents are examples of such indicators. With time such an important component of a nation's growth and prosperity, going underground might well be a solution to the capital's transport issues.


From cobblestone roads to rapid tarmac highways, light train railways or ceramic sidewalks, the EPRDF led ruling government has been spending billions of birr to ease the acute scarcity of urban transport services amidst escalating demands.

Salvaged vehicles from both Europe and the petro-dollar Middle Eastern countries find Addis Abeba an open door where they sell like hot cakes. What was only about a quarter of a million in number has now increased to reach the half a million mark in just five years. Constable Assefa Mezgebu, the city’s traffic office PR, has been a living witness to the daily traffic accidents.

He receives reports from his subordinates of the number of fatalities and damage to property. He tries to register the reported causes of the accident as often as possible. “Not giving priority to pedestrians” or, in plain words, drivers not stopping at “Zebra crossings” is often mentioned. Traffic accidents are rapidly growing, leaving us to wonder what will happen ten years from now. This is an open question to all of us. Despite the addition of the light rail, and an increased number of city buses and taxis, the long lines at each bus station and terminal are indications of the prevalence of the problem. This should be a serious concern for the responsible offices – the Addis Abeba Transport Bureau in particular.

We cannot exclude, among other factors, the pull and push effects on the agrarian population – pull because of the search for employment, push because of poverty with too many children having to share the same plot of eroded land. Whatever the reason may be the fact that the urban population continues to grow at more than five or six percent a year.

We should not forget the annual population growth of the city dwellers themselves. This is estimated to be at least 2.8pc.

All these points, which could be refined by further studies, lead us to have some hint as to what could be the estimated figure of the population of the city. Population figures, whether or not estimated or assessed by actually counting, could only be a half cooked bread if taken in isolation. All other sectors of the social and the economic sectors grow as well accordingly. What I am trying to do is underline the necessity and vitality of planning not just based on wants and day dreams.

Ambitious planning may be acceptable only to the extent of its objectives of serving as inspiration. But you cannot make your eggs count before they are hatched. I am trying to point out the need to base our planning, especially if it involves billions of dollars during its implementation period, on the reality.

The primary objective of planning the urban transport system should be determined as a first step in the process. Setting up priorities must be based on scientific studies that involve counting.

Among many other indicators, we have to be careful not to be misguided by the orders or unjustified guidance of political powers of the day. Nor should they be misled by superlatives and exaggerations of some people who try to influence the study team. Inflated price quotations, or even unjustified price reductions based on the fluctuating world currency prices, could be misleading and therefore should be avoided. But market price increments should also be reasonably considered to be growing throughout the implementation period.

That leads us to the most essential question. How long will the project take to be completed and become operational? Here is where the real capacity of planning skill is tested. We may identify here at least three stages – design, construction and operations. Then comes the investable maintenance stage, which commences right after the provisional acceptance.

My detailed efforts made so far is to somehow hint that the capital is exploding like a ball of plastic. The available spaces are filled by buildings and road constructions. One can only go so far in building beyond the boundary limits. The carrying capacity of the capital cannot go beyond its resources. Water, electricity and other services can be provided only up to their limits.

Time is the most precious asset – either we have to use it wisely or lose it once and for all. What has been lost today cannot be recovered again. Realising the value of time is only possible when the level of awareness matches it. As the celebrated Haile G.Selassie once said to the executive government men and women, not a minute but a micro-second makes all the difference that can be translated into millions of dollars.

If saving time in minutes can make all that difference, civil servants, doctors, students, university lecturers, shop keepers and all the rest of us have to report to their jobs on time to the second.

What has this got to do with planning the transport system? If you want to make it on time to your job at a reasonable price or free of charge, respecting the timetable makes all the difference. How long do passengers have to wait standing in line every day? How much money is lost in every hour at every shop, school, office, hospital? Try to figure out how much money these delays cost the country on aggregate.

If we can come to terms with the target of the value of time as a common target, then we can see if there are ways of saving time as our common objective. We cannot go on demolishing homes and old slums to make way for new road constructions or expansions every now and then.

We cannot trespass over political boundaries to construct new common housing, dry waste dumping areas or water waste treatment farms.

It is, therefore, about time that, just as the interurban town rail road lines can facilitate a smooth and vast flow of transport, we start studying facts that justify a couple of underground metro lines within the city too.

Courtesy to modern science and technology, it is possible these days to scan the landscape and make detailed seismic and underground detailed studies.

These will also be refined by making a few holes here and there to make structural maps. These holes should be dug at major destination points. For example, Mercato can be figured out from actual traffic counting or bus ticket vendors. I would imagine a possible line of traffic flow between “Sebtegana” and Mercato. This could be adopted further to plan the metro lines. Structural engineers can estimate the weight bearing capacities of the columns and the steel structures; cement and steel iron factories can be involved here too. The massive digging and earth moving activities and heavy machinery are definitely to be utilised here. This is just to roll the snow ball, as it were.



By Girma Feyissa


Published on Sep 06,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 853]


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