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Special Correspondent: The Strategy Behind Banning Motorbikes in Calabar, Nigeria
Gab Okulaja

Gab Okulaja, Special Advisor to the Governor of Cross River State and head of the Department of Public Transportation.

In November 2009, the Cross River State government banned the use of commercial motorcycles, or okadas, in Calabar, a city of 300,000 people, located in southeastern Nigeria.  Gab Okulaja, Special Advisor to the Governor of Cross River State and head of the Department of Public Transportation (DOPT), sat down with TheCityFix special correspondent Drew Alt and his co-worker Vicky Chin from the IBM Corporate Service Corps to discuss the strategy behind the ban.

TheCityFix: Why did the Department of Public Transportation feel it was necessary to ban motorcycles?

Gab Okulaja: I look at the issue of commercial motorcycles by asking myself what type of transportation I would want for the citizens of Cross River State.  From a safety perspective, commercial motorcycles expose commuters to all manners of risk.  Reports from the casualty wing of the hospitals in Calabar showed that on a daily basis the doctors were overloaded with accidents and deaths coming from the operations of these okadas.

In terms of mass movement, motorcycles are not the best because they only pick one person, creating a lot of congestion.  For example, if you had a bus that seats 50 people, one bus would move 50 people as opposed to 50 bikes moving 50 people.  You can also imagine the amount of carbon monoxide that will be coming from 50 exhaust pipes and engines.  All these are things that don’t sit well with a city that wants to be a livable city.

Crime and social dislocations were other issues that came with commercial motorcycles.  Because it was difficult to regulate commercial operators, before you knew it, just anybody was on a bike and the crime rate increased.  People also saw riding a motorbike as an easy form of earning.  People were dropping out of school and skilled trades to get a bike and thought that was the end of it.  So you had a stagnated work force which was content with just riding bikes and making some quick earnings.  It was creating dislocations in the social structure of the city.

Lastly, we had in the back of our minds that here we were positioning Calabar and Cross River as a tourist destination in Nigeria and there was a need for us to at least provide transportation that meets international best practices.  All these issues informed for us the need to put a ban to commercial motorcycles.

TCF: Was there any resistance to the ban?

GO: Back in 2007, the government first proposed regulating the commercial motorcycles.  This was vehemently opposed by the operators.  They bombed down a police station and things like that.  So the government had to come down hard on them and provide an alternative solution to show them that government was serious about what they wanted to do at the time.

Before we banned the motorcycles in 2009, we tried to find out what the issues would be with the operators to prevent a similar reaction.  The number one concern among operators was the immediate loss of income.  As a government we needed to find a way out of this because it is our responsibility to provide jobs for our citizens.  So we allowed the operators to break themselves into cooperative units and created associations.  The government provided the necessary backing for them to be able to acquire new forms of transportation – taxis and buses – and left them under their cooperative structure, and allowed them to share ownership of taxis and buses through weekly and monthly contributions.  By so doing we did not distort their earnings, we did not distort these groupings they had, and we did not throw them out of work.  We provided them with an alternative within what they were already used to doing.

TCF: Has Calabar changed since the ban?

Gab Okulaja: Four months after the ban, which took place on November 22, 2009, the events have shown that this was the right decision.  I can gladly tell you that we’ve had two taxi companies come in and between them they’ve injected almost 100 brand new taxis into the city – fully private sector-driven this time.  We’ve had inquiries for bus opportunities. There are private companies that have come in and are willing to provide buses on our bus routes on a franchise basis.  We’ve had commercial drivers coming back and subjecting themselves to training for the purpose of obtaining a commercial driver’s license.  So these are some of the benefits we’ve seen from the position we took and sending the okadas away.  The crime rate has dropped significantly.  Reports from the police show that it was near zero in December [2009], the same for January [2010].  So it has played out better for the city.

——

Author’s Note: As a reminder, comments are most welcome.  And to kick off the conversation, take a look at the results of a similar ban on motorcycles in Guangzhou, China, which resulted in a positive outcome.  Is anyone aware of motorcycle bans that have not lived up to their billings?

Until next time,

Drew

——

Drew Alt is a Senior Consultant within IBM Global Business Services in Washington, DC.  He is currently on assignment for IBM in Calabar, Nigeria with the Department of Public Transportation.  Follow Drew on his blog at http://www.ibm.com/corporateservicecorps/blog/1950 or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/drewfalt

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  • David

    JohnB –

    Thanks for pointing this out. Hopefully gentrification and greater mixing of income levels is something that will get addressed as part of smart growth and livable street design, so eventually we can can both diversity and livable streets co-existing as a structural reality.

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • @Sarah Goodyear
    You are indeed right when it comes to much of the country. Safe Routes to Schools uses a 16 percent walk/bike rate to schools. Which is really disheartening. It’s about school location, of course.

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • JohnB

    The dilemma here is that the ability to walk to school, i.e. attending the school closest to where you live, is in direct contradiction to the policy of “diversity” i.e. ensuring schools have a certain racial mix by sending kids to schools far away

    Used to be called bussing but that word isn’t used any more. It still happens in most cities though.

    so interestingly, you have two politically correct notions – liveable streets and diversity – clashing with each other.

    For those of us who aren’t big on political correctness, there’s a certain irony in that.

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • Sarah Goodyear

    @Hi and Kim,

    I was the one who used the word “norm,” and I obviously shouldn’t have. It’s an overstatement. But it is incredible to me how much driving to school has increased in the city since my childhood. When I was in elementary school, not a single classmate reached school that way. But at least 25 percent, and probably more, of my son’s classmates arrive at school in cars.

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • Just in the name of education – and not to contradict BicyclesOnly – New York City public schools enjoy a 75 percent walk/bike/transit rate in most cases. At elementary schools, it’s because most schools are tightly zoned and kids live 5-10 blocks near their schools. For Middle and High School students, they live SO FAR from their schools, they need transit. Catchment schools (which are mostly independent schools along with magnet public schools) have much more driving because there is a perception that it is “too far” to walk/bike/take transit. This is where we run into trouble.

    In London, every school has a “green travel coordinator” who helps raise awareness about the significance of our daily commutes and the way this affects our health, safety and the environment. At Streets Education, we imagine a time where this kind of awareness is cultivated at independent schools as families are asked to weigh their convenience against ‘green’ choices and community values. These are the same families that are up at 10 o’clock at night scrubbing out their tuna fish cans for recycling in the name of the environment. We need to put travel/transportation up there in the minds of families.

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • Hi,

    I should have specified that I was talking about NYC school kids 14 or so and under. Most older kids find it intolerable to their self-esteem to be driven around by their parents. One would think that this natural feature of adolescence would fix the problem of unnecessary motoring to school, but unfortunately some families deal with this by giving their kids daily cabfare. This is primarily a private school phenomenon, but I know a couple of kids at Hunter College High who have this arragnement as well.

    But point well taken, I’m talking about a very specific demographic, not all NYC students.

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • Hi

    I’m a New York high school student, and I live in Manhattan and Queens (my parents are split). I just want to say that it isn’t “the norm” for kids to be driven to school. Almost all of my friends commute to school and home on the subway, and most kids at my school live very far away. Even the kids who don’t have access to a subway, in Bayside, Queens, take the LIRR to get to school. Very few kids that I know get dropped off every morning. There are some, but I would definitely not call it “the norm”

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • Hooray for P.L. Robertson Elementary! And who wants to bet that Milton, Ontario is, all things being equal, a lot less walkable than New York City.

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • My parents have a home movie of my mother walking me to kindergarten on my first day. By the end of the school year I was walking solo and continued doing so through the end of high school. Depending on the school, my shortest commute was three minutes and my longest one, to high school, was 45 minutes. The one hazardous road (Route 28) had a crossing guard near the elementary school. Never had any trouble, possibly because lots of other kids were on the sidewalks at the same time and there were plenty of (little) eyes on the street. This was from the early 1960s through the mid ’70s. The new norm unnerves me, but when the peak oil crisis hits hard, parents may rediscover the virtues of the old norm.

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • It would be so wonderful to introduce this appraoch in New York city. I know so many famlies that drive their kids 2 miles or less to and from school each day, even when they aren’t combining it with some other trip. They create a dangerous situation by each insisting on dropping their kid off right in front of the school entrance, even if that means triple-parking and dropping the kids in the middle of the street. The private schools hire people to control this traffic and keep it reasonably safe, but it’s pure chaos at the public schools. Public or private, the motoring parents completely block the bike lanes that DoT so often installs next to schools, rendering them dangerous and useless to kids trying to bike to school.

    I don’t try to offer advice to these motoring parents, but it sort of funny when they start spontaneously offering excuses for driving when when they see me and my son pull up at school on our bikes each morning. Most of them say they are combining the trip to school with other trips, making the stop by the school “convenient.” Others describe it as a safety measure. I don’t see eye to eye with Lenore Skenazy on everything, but she sure has a point that parents risking warping their kids’ behavior and fitness by overprotecting them from the dangers of traveling independently, in the city as well as in the suburbs.

    This comment was originally posted on Streetsblog

  • Check my interview w Head of Dept of Public Transport: The Strategy Behind Banning Motorbikes in Calabar, Nigeria http://shar.es/mgKPX

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter