What traffic congestion costs Lagos commuters

What traffic congestion costs Lagos commuters

Every day in Lagos, you are either stuck in traffic or trying to avoid it. Both situations come at a cost.

For most of the history of Nigeria’s biggest city, its physical expansion has grown faster than available roads, rails, ferries, and buses. Such a mismatch is the cause of its inefficient transport system and has socioeconomic costs for individuals, businesses, and the city.

Using the extra cost of transport as a proxy, Danne Institute for Research in collaboration with Financial Derivatives Company calculated the economic cost of traffic congestion to an individual who lives and works in Lagos. That is the additional cost of public transport or fuel; money that could have been saved or spent on other things. The survey is part of our upcoming report: Connectivity and Productivity in Lagos.

Our survey found that public transport users spend N359.27 on average daily (N1,796.35 per week), due to traffic. The opportunity cost of this is either a reduction in consumption or a decline in savings.

We also found that due to traffic, the additional amount car owners spend on fuel weekly on the average is N3,044.97. The range – the difference between the highest and the lowest amount – is N16,800. The mode – the observation with the highest frequency – is N5,000.

Lagosians who own a car spend N133,978.68 extra on fuel each year. Those who use public transport spend N79,039.40 each year. In a country with high unemployment rate and an extended family system, this is money that could have been spent on feeding or training relatives’ or simply saved for the future.
Perennial traffic jams in Lagos date back to the 1960s. Moving around Lagos has always come at a cost.

On the average households spent 24% of their budget on public transport – low-income households spent 33% while their middle- and upper-income counterparts spent 10%, a 2015 World Bank study reported. In 2019, one-tenth (N534m) of Lagosians’ total expenditure was on transport, according to the latest data on consumption patterns from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Our Connectivity and Productivity report traces the history of transport in Lagos from the colonial era till date.

Today in Lagos, 8 million commuters and 5 million vehicles move about on a road network of 9,204 roads and three bridges that link the mainland to the island.

At rush hours Lagos is jam-packed. An average of 264 cars per km negotiate the city compared to the world average of 11 cars per km. Even so, most residents walk. The volume of traffic on Lagos roads everyday exceeds the capacity of the traffic network, hence traffic congestion. Roads as a percentage of built-up area dropped from 17% in the pre-1990s to 16% between 1990 and 2014, based on data from the Atlas of Urban Expansion.

Lagos began to expand soon after the “motor boom” post-World War I. It led to an increase in the demand for roads and bridges. Most of the physical expansion of Lagos has taken place on the mainland. Most people live on the outskirts of the economic centres in Lagos Island and Eti-Osa where they work.

Between 1950 and 1963, the population of Lagos hit 1,124,190, the first “millionaire” city in West Africa and the fastest growing in Africa. This pattern of expansion has resulted in 12 millionaire cities – local government areas with a population of 1 million and above – within the megacity.

These millionaire cities are fragmented – the average distance from 11 millionaire cities to Lagos Island is 23.4km. They are disconnected too – arterial roads are limited, the light rail is incomplete, and the waterways are underutilised. With such an inefficient transport network, the socioeconomic cost of traffic congestion to an individual is high.

Traffic congestion is a constraint to jobs and markets in a city that accounts for 45% of Nigeria’s skilled labour force. It cripples the growth of most micro-, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) located in Lagos. These small businesses are the largest employers of labour and account for half of the gross domestic product of Nigeria.

Better mobility or improved connectivity in Lagos will reduce the socioeconomic cost of traffic congestion to individuals. Cities thrive on connections; efficient public transport systems make it happen. Beyond a certain threshold, gridlocks paralyse economic activity as transport cost increases and productivity decreases. In Nigeria, labour productivity has been negative in the last four years. Congestion cripples the potential benefits of the economic density of Lagos.

Providing strong links among possible transport options in Lagos will reduce traffic gridlocks. A multimodal mass transport system with buses, trains, and ferries in the megacity will put some order into an otherwise unruly transport system. Consequently, it will reduce hours lost in traffic jams and improve labour productivity in the megacity.


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