Could Uber be the thing that kills Lagos's half official bus network?

Supporters of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari celebrate their victory on top of a Lagos bus. Image: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images.

In Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, entrepreneurialism is everything. The city’s proud regard of hustle centres on its commerce and its emerging tech centre: more than anything else, the city is a bustling marketplace.

But its buses, too, can make a good snapshot of life in Lagos.

The vehicles used by the bus rapid transit network, Lagos BRT – big, blue and in a lane of their own – are pretty conventional. They connect up a key 22km stretch of the mainland, and, bar moments when daring drivers cut down their lane in frustration, are relatively unaffected by the city’s unbearable congestion. The network is regulated by the state government; the prices are fixed; and the service is, at least when the Lagos traffic is taken into account, bearable.

 Their smaller, yellow counterparts, the minibuses and the larger molue – commercially-run, semi-official and only loosely regulated – are more interesting beasts. There are no statistics available on exactly how many of Lagos’ 10m inhabitants brave them every day, but a decent guestimate would be “a lot”. They travel via the main roads and through inner streets, where the road surface is often severely damaged by pot-holes, making riding them more of an excursion. 

The X68 from Croydon to Euston has its moments, but pales by comparison to this. The buses, like all Lagos motorists, navigate the potholes and aggressive traffic with the gusto of a pubescent rhino. The drive sometimes takes you perilously close to the edge of the open gutters that line most streets, but they seldom give in to them. 

The system’s lack of regulation is a concern, but a mild one. The seats are broken and tough, and the engines make noises that should prompt a concern that it rarely does. But it is not as dysfunctional a system as it can appear.

The bus conductors are usually young – a symptom of high youth unemployment – and bellow the names of destinations as they pass. The closest thing to a workable bus map available, they are an expert guide on where you need to go, when they're in the mood. The drivers never wait, but slow down just enough for people to hop on before taking off again. The impatience is a hallmark of the city.

The required entrepreneurialism comes into play when settling the fare. It's at least 50 Naira more expensive in traffic, or if the demand is high – or if the bus conductor is chancing his luck after an unrewarding day. Most Lagosians accept that the rules on setting fares are loose ones.

The weekly grapple for these ever changing far revenues could have made Uber's expansion into Nigeria last year a seamless one: in many ways the company offers a better version of what already exists. The firm has since announced a 25 per cent reduction in its prices, making its taxis more accessible to the average Nigerian, and targeting a huge market of battle-ready commuters. 

So will the yellow bus industry be worried? Uber's model is a systemised version of their own: the taxi firm’s price flexibility, a unique feature of the service in established markets like London, is practically built-in in Lagos. But those buses, however tumultuous, are still braved by most in the city; they’ll rock on for a while yet.

 
 
 
 

Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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