The next step: Clarification of the roles and interplay between the stakeholders (institutional, private and paratransit)

In urban Africa, institutional transport by bus has often been neglected by the authorities after gaining independence. This has resulted in the development of parallel paratransit systems, with regards to their governance and services. So much so that today, in most African cities, the bus networks experience competition from these paratransit transport modes, whose operators are tending towards using ever smaller vehicles for reasons of profitability. Such vehicles have a faster fill rate and are more adaptable to off-peak times, to the detriment of higher-capacity vehicles.

Consequently, the urban and institutional circumstances are not always favourable to setting up new bus networks (increasingly one of the priorities of the authorities responsible for urban mobility) or refreshing existing services, or even to projects to reform the paratransit sector. Indeed, the institutional arrangements and interplay between the stakeholders concerned are marked by decades of a lack of decision-making and dialogue, verging on antagonism between stakeholders.

While avoiding the temptation to generalise, this appendix presents a simplification of a complex ecosystem of stakeholders using the dichotomies between the public and private, institutional and paratransit, and even the new and old stakeholders.

Public and private stakeholders

Given the failure of announced decentralisation processes to reach their full conclusion, the operating frameworks for bus networks in most of the countries of Africa are answerable to the ministry responsible for overland transport. With few exceptions (e.g. Morocco where the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for urban transport), it is the Ministry of Transport (sometimes transport only, sometimes transport and infrastructure) which is responsible for planning services, regulating the supply and, generally, operating the institutional bus networks through semi-public companies.

This is the case in Senegal, where the Ministry of Infrastructure, Land Transport and Accessibility is hosting the organising authority for transport in Dakar – the CETUD, Executive Council for Urban Transport of Dakar – but also the operating company for institutional buses – Dakar Dem Dikk, DDD – and other departments or agencies linked to urban mobility. The City of Dakar (metropolitan level) or the Region of Dakar (departmental level) have few prerogatives in this regard. We find the same model in Guinea, even if there is no authority that organises transport as such: the Ministry of Transport, through the Direction Nationale des Transports Terrestres (national land transport department) acts as a planner and regulator, while also hosting the only bus company in the city of Conakry called Sotragui, which is currently almost defunct. The situation is the same in Togo or Ghana.

The situation is different in countries with a federal organisation covering the country. It is the States, and more particularly the Ministries of Transport, which are responsible for planning and implementing projects or initiatives in the area of urban mobility. This is especially true in Nigeria, where the federal ministries are released from the obligation to run the services but retain the responsibility for formulating mobility policy. LAMATA, the Lagos state transport authority, emerged more as a result of a programme led by the Lagos State Ministry of Transport rather than a federal initiative.

There are also other exceptions. In Cape Town, South Africa, before the recent reform of the institutions with regard to urban transport, the institutional bus services were regulated by Western Cape Province (i.e. the departmental level) and operations were placed under the responsibility of the existing bus company, Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS). At the time, there was no public order company in the city. What’s more, after the creation in 2011 of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – MyCiTi, backed by the metropolitan area (City of Cape Town) – the institutions had to be reorganised. This did not happen without some discussion regarding the role of GABS in the future system.

Today, in urban Africa, the role played by long-standing bus companies varies from one city to another and depends on the decisions made in the past. Some cities, like Ouagadougou for example, suffered from the disappearance of the bus company in place at the time of the independence process. What came afterwards was a long succession of different bus companies that could never provide a genuine public transport alternative. All these companies took different forms: fully state-owned, partially state-owned, or fully private. In most cases, like UDA, the bus company of the city of Dar es Salaam (cf. operational experience), given the decision taken by the cities to continue running a public company, by the early 2000s, the bus companies lacked efficiency and had a very small fleet of usable vehicles.

Dependent on large subsidies from the state paid at the end of each year, the institutional bus companies, which were often seen as a source of pride in countries that have recently won independence, became a burden for national or local administrations with restricted budgets. Campaigns to upgrade the fleets were not scheduled resulting in unplanned upgrades funded by financial backers or donations from European cities that sent their buses, which were at the end of their useful life or no longer complied with the environmental standards in force locally.

Institutional stakeholders versus paratransit stakeholders

Given how the institutional buses struggle to meet the mobility demands of cities, that are constantly growing according to an urban plan that is often widespread and sparse, new paratransit modes developed, occupying an increasingly prominent position in the public transport systems. These paratransit modes, whose key strength is flexibility, now rely on increasingly small vehicles, e.g. the “matatus” of Nairobi, the “candongueiros” of Luanda, the “woro-woro” of Abidjan, and even the “zemidjan” of Cotonou. Not only are these paratransit services an integral part of current urban transport networks, but they are also an important part of the scenery.

As a result, certain dichotomies have become established in urban transport systems: an institutional part, that is service-oriented and has close links with the departments of the ministries (in terms of operations, ownership and regulation), and an paratransit part that is largely concerned with the search for daily profitability, and is self-regulated and developing along parallel lines with minimal synergies, while often providing the bulk of the public transport offer.

The paratransit services also have their own system of stakeholders. The cornerstone of the model are the drivers in charge of the day-to-day running of the vehicles. They are aided by their “coxeurs“, “rabatteurs” (touts) and many other insecure professions, that are developing. Above them are the owners, who are sometimes the drivers themselves and who own the operating licenses. The licence may also be held by other stakeholders, as is the case with the certification of the “grand taxis” in Morocco. These three levels (drivers, owners, licence holders) are organised into associations that manage vehicle operations. Other equally important parallel systems affect relations between the stakeholders; an example of this is the trade unions. Added to this, there are almost always elements of concealment and informality.

However, the paratransit sector is dependent on the public authorities in certain areas. Drivers need driving licences and fulfil other conditions of access issued only by the authorities. Owners must obtain an operating licence and satisfy certain technical obligations for the vehicle. The trade unions, on the other hand, represent the interests of their members with the authorities, which most often translates into negotiating the prices of the public transport services.

New stakeholders to replace the old ones

Among the strategies implemented by the cities to reform their urban public transport systems, two are particularly interesting to analyse. First, the Autorités Organisatrices des Transports (Public Transport Authorities) or Autorités Organisatrices de la Mobilité (Public Mobility Authorities) are created, as far as possible, to centralise the strategic, tactical and operational functions within the organisation of urban transport services. Given the levels of decentralisation of the vast majority of African countries and the lack of resources (human, technical and financial) at the metropolitan or local level, the organising authorities of African transport are under the direct supervision of the ministry responsible for urban transport. This is the case of the Conseil Exécutif des Transports Urbains de Dakar (Dakar Urban Transport Executive Council) in Dakar, for example.

The second strategy, which is relatively more widespread, is the implementation of new institutional and high-capacity modes of transport.

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects, in their various forms, have long been a key part of the initiatives and/or programmes proposed in Africa. The BRT is a bus-only lane public transport system. Designed specifically to have a genuine bus route identity (bus lane, enclosed stations, specific ticketing, priority at crossroads), the BRT features a high transit capacity and an improved quality of service, comfort and performance which is comparable to those offered by the rail transport systems (tram, metro, heavy metro). The BRT’s format varies according to the supply of transportation services, its capacity, the infrastructure in place (more or less heavy), and the mode of operation adopted.

When these services started to be set up in African cities, they sought to replicate the template that had initially been used in Latin American, which replaced the existing paratransit transport services by banning them from entering the new public transport corridor in order to maximise the profitability and optimise the operating costs for the new modes, as is the case for the Latin American BRTs in Quito, Bogota or Santiago. However, setting up BRT corridors has proven to be more of a challenge in Africa.

Today, the range of options in terms of transport capacity has grown and includes other forms of BRT that are more suitable depending on the context, as well as trams, or even metros as in Abidjan.

But the potential arrival of these new stakeholders cannot be brought about solely by the local or metropolitan authorities, and requires state intervention. To this end, the officials of the ministries responsible for urban transport can make use of the support of international donors that strongly support this type of project.

Simplification of a (complex) ecosystem of stakeholders operating at multiple levels