Photograph — Wikipedia

Addis Ababa witnessed the opening of its light metro rail, which is the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa, on the 6th of November this year. The new system of transportation presents commuters with an easier and more affordable way to get around the city, while avoiding its infamous traffic congestion. The metro currently transports about 60,000 people, but by the time its second phase is completed, the number should increase to about 100,000.

Ato Workeneh Gebeyehu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Transport, stated that the metro project is a solution to the transportation problems for low income workers in the city, who would otherwise have to spend more to travel to and from their work places, or be faced with the alternative of getting stuck in traffic. The longest trip on the metro costs around 30 birr (less than $2), while the shortest falls at 6 birr ($0.27).

The common form of transportation in Addis Ababa for low income earners is via minibuses (popularly called ‘taxis’), which only travel short distances within the city, and because they are so common, they end up creating a congestion problem. The newly set up light railway system provides a suitable option for the minibus using populace, which comes up to 3.5 million people.

According to Getachew Betru, CEO of the Ethiopian Railways Corporation, the metro is not a money making venture for the country. Instead, it is a tool to enable economic growth in the country through the provision of a reliable service.

The light metro trains will operate between the hours of 06.00 am and midnight. Also, with the presence of these trains, commuters can plan their trips effectively.

Both Betru, and the Addis Hiwot Taxi Owners Association chairman, Yared Tesfaye agree that the metro trains are not a replacement for the minibuses, but rather a complement, as it cannot entirely solve the issues concerning transportation in Addis Ababa. Also, especially since the train users will mostly be the ones going on long distance trips.

Sub-Saharan Africa countries, and developing countries in general, suffer from major transportation issues due to a common prevalence of urban overpopulation, which usually leads to the presence of more cars than these areas can handle on the roads, even though the majority of the population depend on public transportation.

In light of this, transportation by rail is turned to as an equally urban option compared to automobiles. Additionally, they carry with them the advantages of producing low levels of air and noise pollution, not needing to share space with motorists and speed.

As of 2013, there are about 400 light rail systems worldwide and they are quickly becoming the subject of projects in countries such as India, Kenya, Brazil, Nigeria, and Mexico, focused on increasing the capacity of their public transportation systems.

Benefits aside, the light rail system is not an easy one to implement in most developing societies. A reason for this is the governments’ inability to execute proper plans for them to allow the project take off, or even manage long term plans to sustain the system. Last year, Lagos received $1.4 billion for its urban light rail project, which is yet to witness completion.

Given the above example and as mentioned previously, another thing that these governments need to consider is the fact that building these light rail systems is not an automatic cure for the congestion problems in the urban areas. In most cases, it simply makes it worse, particularly if the reality of the situations in these areas with regards to infrastructure, operating costs of transportation, maintenance costs and patronage are not taken into consideration.

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