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.

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook