Public Transport

Public Transport in Addis From Crisis through Crisis, into Crisis

One of the critical problems in Addis Ababa is the lack of efficient public transport. This is despite the fact that government has been deploying various schemes, such as introduction of Higer, Bishoftu, and double-decker buses; and constructing Sub Sahara’s first light railway with billions in investment and subsidies every year. 

These initiatives have been unable to sufficiently ease the transport crisis. While officials stress the government is doing its best to execute projects that expand mass transportation, experts argue that transport sustainability can only be guaranteed through proper planning that takes into account factors like urbanization and changes in land use. EBR offers this report.

When the 31.6 kilometer long Addis Ababa Light Rail began service on September 20, 2015, the city’s inhabitants were happy. This was because they had been suffering from inefficient transport systems that created congested traffic and time-consuming commuting. More than two years down the line, however, the light rail, which was constructed with USD475 million and has the ability to transport 60,000 people per hour, has failed to alleviate the deficiency of transport supply in the city. In fact, many blame the railway for the compounding problem because the rail networks crowded other means of transportation such as taxies and buses.

The light rail, which failed to fix the transport crisis is not the only initiative implemented by the government to improve the inefficient transport system in the city. For instance, more than a decade ago, the Addis Ababa City Administration imported and introduced Higer buses from China to tackle the city’s transport problem. Locally assembled Bishoftu, and Sheger buses; hundreds of imported buses by Alliance Transport Services, and various metered taxies, all started operation in different periods. None have been able to cope with the demand for transportation.

The city administration has also made another attempt to ease the transport problem by recently introducing 50 double-decker buses, and 100 school buses. These buses are the first batch out of the total 850 the city administration ordered from the Metal and Engineering Corporation at a cost of ETB3.5 billion, one year ago. Despite all of these schemes, the transport mess seems to be getting worse by the day.

For many residents, the recently introduced buses are but a drop in the ocean. However, officials say by using the existing infrastructures optimally, the various initiatives introduced to ease the transportation issue can bring significant change and improve the situation in the capital.

Solomon Kidane (PhD), head of the Addis Ababa Road and Transport Bureau (AARTB), stresses that the existing infrastructure is enough to accommodate the existing and the upcoming transport vehicles if automobiles that lend little in the form of transportation solutions, are pushed out from the system. “There is a need to discourage and push out these vehicles that make little contribution to the transport system in order to make enough space for the more useful mode of transport, which is the city bus.”

“We have identified two strategic areas to focus on in the future,” Solomon tells EBR. “The first is expanding mass transport, while the second is to utilize the existing infrastructures to maximize the mass transport service.”

Public buses are one of the major modes of transportation in Addis Ababa. In addition to government owned Anbessa and Sheger buses, private companies like Alliance Bus provide services in the city. However, these companies cannot cope with the public’s demand for transportation, which costs residents in both time and money.

According to the information obtained from the Transport Bureau there are currently 1,500 city buses operating in the city. “However, an additional 5,000 buses are needed to provide the minimum mass transport services,” says Mitiku Asmare, deputy head of the City Transport Authority.

Studies indicate that companies engaged in mass transport in the capital are not operating at capacity. The finding of a study entitled ‘Performance Analysis on Public Bus Transport of the City of Addis Ababa’ published by Addis Ababa University in 2015, reveals that the operational and financial performance of Anbessa Bus is low and its service is below international standards, despite the fact that the company is subsidized by the government.

According to the study, the efficiency of bus services is mainly dependent on the existence of infrastructure such as roads, and capable transport systems, as well as labor, fuel, and spare part costs. Without resolving these issues, interventions like increasing the number of buses will not address the transport problem. Rather, these schemes create higher congestion in the existing mixed traffic system.

For private companies engaged in mass transport that are operating without subsidies, the business environment is much worse. Alliance Transport Service is the first private company that joined the mass transport business in 2009 with a paid up capital of ETB36 million. Alliance, due to high volumes of traffic and lack of infrastructure in its routes, is unable to perform as expected.

Formed by close to 2,000 shareholders eight years ago, the company started operation with 50 buses imported from China at a cost of ETB72 million. In November 2016, Alliance received 100 buses imported duty free through a loan obtained from the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. But managers of the company are now saying they couldn’t start repaying the loan even with the grace period afforded to them.

“It has become difficult to repay our loan because the business is not profiting much,” a senior manager who requested anonymity, tells EBR. “You cannot profit while the buses waste a lot of time due to congestion, and lack of infrastructure. The low bus fare keeps us from being competitive since we are not subsidized like [Anbessa and Sheger Buses]”.

Lack of incentive for the private sector to engage in public transport is one of the problems that exacerbate the issue. While the city government subsidizes billions of birr every year for Anbessa and Sheger buses, and the light railway (all public companies), Alliance has never been a beneficiary of such scheme. Last year alone, the city subsidized the light rail with ETB1.5 billion.

Eyob Bekele, Information and Communication Team Leader at the Addis Ababa City Road Authority (AACRA) states that road coverage in Addis Ababa has now reached 23.5Pct. The road network has increased by 320Pct in the last 20 years from 1,500 kilometer to 6,300 kilometers.

Currently, roads are mainly built to link the expanding peripheries of the city with the center,” says Eyob. “The roads are built to accommodate both mass transport, and automobiles.”

For Tamene Belete, director of the Legal Affairs Directorate at the Addis Ababa Traffic Management Office, the transport problem is not caused solely by inadequate infrastructure.“Close to 70Pct of the vehicles in the country are located in Addis Ababa. So, the increasing number of vehicles, mostly owned by private individuals, dominates the existing roads and limits vehicles used for mass transportation access.”

According to the information obtained from the Federal Transport Authority, the total number of vehicles found in the country increased by a whopping 203Pct from 274,065 in 2010/11 to 831,265 in June 2017. This means the number of vehicles has increased by an average 33Pct annually in the past seven years.  On top of this, out of the total vehicles, 73Pct are found in Addis Ababa. “The roads are congested mainly because private vehicles are taking up a lot of the space,” argues Solomon.

“Following the recommendation of the transport policy introduced six years ago, all responsible institutions are currently trying expand mass transportation,” states Solomon. “The city government is now pushing for mass transport, in order to make use of existing infrastructure efficiently.”

Mitiku has a similar thought; “the Addis Ababa Transport Authority is aggressively working to increase the supply of buses used for mass transportation, integrate it with other modalities and effectively utilize the available infrastructure.”

However, experts argue that most of the initiatives could not improve the transport crisis because the government failed to see the big picture. “All the schemes taken to ease the problem are introduced without considering the land-use change and urban sprawl,” argues Tibebu Assefa, assistant professor of urban planning at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building and Construction, AAU. “The city is expanding with different land use patterns. In Addis Ababa, the workforce is concentrated in some areas while residential and recreational areas are located far away.”

For Tibebu, the only lasting solution is effective urban planning that balances the spatial distribution of people in the city. “Due to the city expansion, distance between work and residential areas is getting wider. If the residential, recreational and work places are known first, it will be possible to introduce the most efficient means of transportation for every section of the city.”

Studies conducted on the subject reveal that two main factors must be considered before any solution is introduced. A study entitled ‘Urban Mass Transportation Planning’ conducted by Alan Black, Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning states that factors like urbanization, which concentrates peoples and economic activities in specific areas, and interrelated land use patterns should be studied and considered before introducing  solutions.

Addis Ababa is expanding due to high population growth and migration rates. Although rapid urbanization poses several serious challenges for planning, city development and living conditions, it is not being managed effectively by appropriate urban planning mechanisms. As a result, various developmental activities in transport, housing, and utility provision are not well integrated.

“Urban sprawl and uncontrolled city expansion is becoming a significant challenge with several types of problems,” argues Tibebu. “The transport crisis and the failed attempts to rectify it can be good examples in this regard.”

Although there have been major debates amongst land use and transport planners over which comes first, the development of land or the provision of transport, Tibebu stresses that sustainable mobility can be engineered. “Appropriate design and management of the facilities, as well as the services they provide, can bring a fruitful resolution.”

In his study, Black explains that transport planning requires making compromises between planners’ ideals, and the existing reality; which is often complex. Since transportation has always been dictated by many factors, the final plan should be flexible under different circumstance and adapt to future changes.

Of course, experts argue that transport systems in urban areas should be tailored and prepared to function within the existing developments and limitations by considering and evaluating economic, social, and various other factors in problem solving process, concurrently. This is because transportation is diverse and multi-sectoral and needs to be fully incorporated with other municipal sectors.

The transport-planning guide prepared by the UNDP identifies the most common gaps that are observed in countries throughout the world.  One is giving too much attention to project feasibility rather than to the best possible solutions. Another is that planning often overlooks low cost means of transportation that can improve transport accessibility and mobility. Lack of alternative analysis and absence of consistent evaluation methodology, as well as lack of transport planning departments and experts are some of the other major gaps highlighted in the guide.

This is why Tibebu argues that the solution must start from the land use and master plan level. “This can fundamentally solve the problem and dramatically improve mobility. It can also decrease the investment needed to construct infrastructures. The experience of cities in Europe and Africa that have low road coverage compared to Addis Ababa, and still have a detailed transport plan supports my argument.”

However, Tibebu says there is a design gap between the master plan and the demands of individuals. “Since the master plan only provides a general direction, a transport plan that outlines the specific demands and detailed urban features is needed.”

For Tibebu, a transport system that does not save time, money, and energy is unnecessary. “Introducing vehicles without considering the existing reality and demand can be more of a problem, than a solution. The point is not increasing the road network, rather, it is decreasing the road congestions.”

While the concept of sustainability is relatively uncomplicated, the notion of building sustainable transportation is. In all possibility, urban transportation systems will never be truly sustainable without appropriate and detailed planning. Because in the absence of planning, cities like Addis Ababa will continue to grow haphazardly without thoroughly considering the needs of their residents.

6th Year . January 16  – February 15 2018 . No.57

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ethiopian Business Review | EBR is a first-class and high-quality monthly business magazine offering enlightenment to readers and a platform for partners.

2Q69+2MM, Jomo Kenyatta St, Addis Ababa

Tsehay Messay Building

Contact Us

+251 961 41 41 41