Counting the Cost of Lagos Traffic

Having to catch a first flight out of Lagos, I had to hit the road by 5am to ensure I got to the airport in time to avoid hearing stories that touch the heart. As the cab driver got on the expressway, I could not help but notice that the roads were already busy at that time. While the driver and I discussed about the traffic situation, I thought about my experience spending unnecessary time commuting to and from work. Luckily, I do not need to leave for work at 5am each day; however, for many Lagosians, leaving after 5am increases their odds of getting to work late.  

To provide some context, the traffic situation in Lagos is well known across Nigeria, maybe even beyond the shores of the country. Lagos is the smallest state in Nigeria, yet it competes with Kano (officially) for the venerable title of the most populated state. Driven by a relatively high cost of living and uneven distribution of job opportunities, many Lagosians live very far away from their offices, with some effectively living in Ogun State while doing lengthy commutes each day into and out of Lagos.

If Lagos had a modern transport system such as the high-speed trains in Japan, maybe distance would not have been a problem, but with Nigeria’s hyper-functional rail system, people have to flood the roads to reach their target locations. Worsening the traffic situation is the number of private cars available in Lagos which is associated with widening distrust of the public transportation system. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics suggests that Lagos, Nigeria’s smallest state, has the highest number of road vehicles.

The foregoing provides a perfect recipe for long-winding build-up of traffic on roads across Lagos. Several pundits estimate that commuters spend hours in traffic each day on their outbound and inbound legs from their homes. For some persons, beating the traffic means waking around 3am, hurriedly getting out to head to work, reaching the office, say by 6am – 7am, finding a spot to nap, until a few minutes to 8am, when they would wash their faces and enter their offices to start the day. Thereafter, at the end of the workday, some persons may not get home until 11pm or even midnight; barely having a few hours to catch some sleep, and then repeat the cycle at 3am.

Imagine having to go through such a cycle week in, week out; how will that impact on your productivity? My unproven-yet-likely-valid theory is that the productivity of the workforce in Lagos is far below what it would have been if people did not have to spend so much time in traffic. I cannot expect someone who spent two hours coming to work inside a rickety bus, with lots of sweating during hot days, and the potential trauma of emotionally charged arguments with bus conductors or other passengers, to reach his or her office and deliver exactly the same quality of work as a colleague with similar skills (and motivation) who had a 15-minute drive to the office. It is just logical that the stress from traffic will build up over time and systematically degrade the quality of an individual’s work. While those with “less brainy” jobs may evade excessive degradation, for others whose jobs require serious brainstorming, the impact may be much more pronounced.

Besides the productivity loss, commuters pay a big toll to the security risks of being on the roads before daybreak. A friend of mine was robbed of his phones while walking out of his street one early morning. His is a small case compared with the stories of persons who have encountered “one chance” robbers early in the morning. People have been robbed early in the morning, and late at night as criminals exploit the cover of darkness to perpetuate their criminal acts. There have also been cases of robbery during traffic congestion as thieves exploit the slow pace of vehicles, especially on roads that offer quick exit routes for the criminals.

So far, I have not even touched on the impact of lengthy road journeys on people’s health. If someone does an early morning exit and late-night return repeatedly, there is bound to be some impact on his or her health from accumulated stress, especially considering that a good proportion of the workforce are not entitled to annual leave. This may manifest through stress-related breakdown from fatigue, or reduced immunity which may render a person more susceptible to germs and other disease-causing organisms. Besides ill-health, stress could impact on a person’s concentration level and situational awareness, which can lead to accidents at work, at home, or while driving. Here we see a potential workplace hazard linked to the Lagos traffic.

Lastly, there is the impact on family bonds. I have heard of families where the parents only see their kids on Saturdays and Sundays. All through the week, these parents leave their homes before the kids are awake, and return when their kids are sleeping; then these parents sometimes work on Saturday, which makes Sundays the only day when their kids may have some guarantee of seeing and relating with their parents. Is there an impact on emotional bonds within such families? Is there a potential impact on the health of children whose wellbeing is left for house-helps or other family members? Is there a potential impact on the ability of such parents to groom their children properly and teach them useful societal skills? Is there a potential impact on the preparedness of the next generation for workplace productivity and their ability to contribute to building the society in their own time?

If we sit and count the cost of the infamous Lagos traffic, we will balk at the losses being suffered every day. As shown in this article, you will see that the cost transcends monetary costs or GDP estimates but includes a range of other non-financial segments which will ordinarily be overlooked in a “regular” impact assessment. Maybe it is time for some rigorous evaluation of the impact of the Lagos traffic on its people, its economy, its communities, and the sustainability of its future. This is an area that someone or some people may consider for research. Maybe when we see the numbers, the government and people of Lagos will determine that the cost of uncontrolled traffic is too high a price to pay, and will seek a practical, sustainable solution.

Image Credit: guardian.ng

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