Lagos Traffic: The Cost of Waiting in Line

Mar 23, 2018|Aisha Salaudeen

“I left Somolu at 4pm, and I didn’t get home until 10pm. The trip to Oke-Aro should not have lasted more than an hour.” – Tosin Adeshokan, regular Lagos commuter.

Few things unite Lagosians like traffic jams; sitting in traffic for hours, often with no reason for the blockage, and no end in sight. Traffic is so embedded in the city’s psyche that Lagos is considered one of the worst cities in the world to drive in.

Roads are the most popular mode of transport for Lagos' reported 21 million residents. The state lags behind major cities in utilising efficient public transport systems; rail, urban capacity buses and water transportation are relatively underdeveloped in the city, making roads the go-to form of mobility.


Waiting in line

With a landmass of about 3,600 square kilometres, Lagos is the smallest state in Nigeria, representing just 0.4% of the entire country. However, over 8 million people travel to work each day on the 9,100 roads and expressways available in Lagos. These figures depict congestion as Lagos has too many people and too few roads.

The state's wealth compared to the rest of the country also means that it is overrun by too many cars and drivers on the road. With over 5 million registered vehicles on its roads, Lagos has an average of 200 vehicles per kilometre, exceeding the national average of 11 vehicles. Without the corresponding improvement in infrastructure and transport services, the increase in population and vehicle use has resulted in Lagos' infamous go-slows

As millions of commuters rush to move around a congested city at the same time, people are forced to “wait in line” to get to their destination.


Output per worker    

“My office is in Lagos Island. I have to leave Agege by 5am every day to make it to work on time. Working like that is exhausting and has made me question my career decisions.” – Chika Obikoro, Regular Lagos commuter.

Nearly all organisations care about employee productivity. Productivity here refers to a worker's output per hours worked. If I can bake ten cakes in two hours, my productivity can be measured as five cakes per hour. Organisations care about productivity because it determines how competitive they are – the higher your productivity, the more competitive you are.  

To achieve this, human resources need to be effectively utilised, because the ultimate source of value is people. When employees perform below their potential, this is an unrealised loss to the organisation and the person. 

Using information from a mix of industries in Lagos, peak traffic times and worker questionnaires, one study found that spending extra hours in traffic has an adverse effect on a worker's productivity. Moreover, the longer the travel distance, the more work ‘suffers’. For example, the output level of workers that covered a distance of 5-10 km was not negatively affected.

By reducing worker productivity, traffic hits both people and firms. This way, it also reduces overall economic output. Understanding this, the Lagos State Governor suggests that traffic jams cost the city ₦42 billion each year

“You can’t adapt to commuting because it’s entirely unpredictable.” – Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist.

Other studies establish a link between commute time and individual well being (happiness). Workers that spend more time in traffic report lower overall life satisfaction. Spending more time on the road heightens stress levels due to the daily rush, and a 2012 study found that longer commutes have health implications as they make room for weight gain and decreased cardiorespiratory fitness.

According to social scientists, happier workers are more productive. Positive emotions influence the work capacity of an individual as it promotes innovation, improves memory and boosts creativity. So if long commute times affect happiness and happiness affects productivity, we have another link between traffic and productivity. The more time you spend in traffic, the unhappier you get, and the less productive you become. 


Managing the challenge

The Lagos State Government has put some measures in place to tackle traffic. It created LASTMA (Lagos state traffic management authority) in 2000 as a traffic control agency. While the agency is often mocked for incompetence and corruption, its work on transport management cannot be overlooked as residents benefit from their work to ease traffic.

Furthermore, the BRT (bus rapid transit) scheme, a bus system on dedicated routes, has been running in Lagos since 2008. BRT buses run on special lanes, making congestion on the highway less of a worry. While it requires more capacity and route expansions, many Lagos workers consider it as their go-to mode of transport as they arrive their places of work without sitting for too long in traffic.

Despite these, traffic in Lagos persists and is likely to do so given population and infrastructure trends. Considering the big picture, one thing is clear from the Lagos traffic situation, and it is that managing its impact is more than just a walk in the park.