The fourteen-seater bus contained twenty passengers. Six passengers carried an extra person on their laps, amounting to twenty two people in the bus, the driver and conductor inclusive.
Strapped to the boot of the bus, in a manner that left the bonnet/door ajar, were several bulging sacks and baskets of tomatoes.
The journey began, slowly, the bus groaning under the heavy weight. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for the weight to take its toll on the vehicle. With a loud bang, one of the tyres got busted, bringing the journey to an abrupt halt.
Having no spare tyre, the passengers were stranded on the express road. What followed was a fight between the driver and the conductor; the driver blaming the conductor for carrying too many passengers, and the conductor blaming the driver for not having a spare tyre. The passengers whose fares had been collected were left to wait until the two had spent their anger.
This is not an uncommon scene on Lagos roads. Lagos, the smallest yet most populous city in the country, experiences a rapid depletion of its physical and technical resources as a result of its population. In an overcrowded city such as this, the available means of public transportation is constantly being over used, thereby causing a risk for both the occupants and the vehicles.
In order to clamp down on overloading of vehicles, the Federal Road Safety Commission charged commuters not to carry more than the necessary number of passengers permitted by the commission. The approved number of passengers for salon cars is five, including the driver.
The Marcoplolo buses have the capacity to carry 49 sitting passengers and 30 standing passengers, while another Marcopolo bus made in Nigeria is authorised to carry 52 passengers and 30 standing passengers.
Penalties for Offenders
In a chat with the FRSC Sector Commander in Lagos, Mr. Jonas Agwu, he stated that the commission has not relented in its efforts to curb the menace of overloading. “Overloading is a traffic offence that is punishable by law. In order to drive home the commission’s position against overloading, we commenced a total war against overloading since 2008.”
The campaign, however, focused more on interstate travellers. Last year, many travellers within the country had some tales of being stopped by agents of the FRSC because they boarded vehicles which carried more than the stipulated number of passengers or load.
Sunday Ojelabi, a driver at New Garage, Ojota, who conveys passengers from Lagos to Ilorin, said that he had been stopped a few times by agents of the FRSC along Ibadan expressway for overloading.
“They said that I carried too many passengers and that the load on the bus was too much. I begged them but they did not allow me go; so I had to call one of my friends to bring his bus and carry some of the passengers.” Another driver, simply called TJ, who carries passengers from Oshodi to Ifo in Ogun State, recounted a similar experience.
“Before, I used to carry four passengers on a seat to make a total of eighteen passengers. But now, I carry three passengers on a seat to make a total of fourteen passengers. It reduces my money for me but if i don’t do that, they will take my bus.”
While the problem of overloading on interstate roads seems to be reducing due to the commission’s efforts, it still persists within the state. Mr. Agwu said that the commission is aware of this and has intensified its efforts on curbing overloading within Lagos State.
“Our war against overloading is an all encompassing effort. It does not draw a line between interstate and intrastate roads. Because overloading was more pronounced on interstate roads, we put a lot of emphasis there before. We have now fine tuned our efforts and are working with the Lagos State Ministry of Transport, together with the special adviser to the governor on transportation, to develop a renewed strategy.”
Drivers in Lagos now have to comply strictly with the commission’s regulations on overloading or made to face the penalty.
In his words, “Offenders would pay a fine of ten thousand naira if they are found carrying more passengers than necessary, or more load than necessary. Also, the extra passengers or load must be removed from the vehicle before they can continue with their journey.”
Lagosians, however, have mixed reactions to the commissions’ resolve. Bisi Adelaja, a petty trader, said it would make the drivers increase the bus fares.
“If they don’t allow them carry all their passengers, they will just increase the money and make it too expensive. I go to Balogun every week to buy my goods and I know how much I spend on transportation, even when the bus is overloaded.” Another commuter, Mr. James, a newspaper vendor, says the stopping of overloading is a welcome development. “The government should stop overloading, especially in molue buses. They have tried with the BRT buses, but they should also improve the railway so that we can move about easily.”