Staff Buses

Every morning on my way to work I drive past buses carrying the sleepy staff of various institutions in the private and public sectors. Where ever you are in any city in Nigeria look for a Coaster bus and there is a good chance you have found one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such fleets run by institutions as varied as the Navy Dockyard, the Ministry of Justice, Zenith Bank, Etisalat, AIICO Insurance and so on.

It appears these institutions have worked out that running these fleets is an overall better proposition for them than not doing so. It is certainly not costless since it involves a non-trivial commitment to a line of business–transportation–quite different from one’s core competence.

I can see how this might make sense for a single institution seeking to optimise its output: better to provide a transport solution for your staff than suffer the consequences of not doing so. But what could these consequences be? Disgruntled employees? Late employees? Risk of losing staff because you do not provide easy transportation? I don’t know. What I do know is that there are many employees who do not have these facilities but carry on. Drivers, for instance, don’t have staff buses. Yet they must be at work at 6am on the dot to get ready for the day ahead. This may just be a legacy perk that institutions are too scared to remove. It would be interesting to compare the frequency of this practice in newer v. older institutions (however you define this).

But let’s step back a bit and consider an optimised transport solution from say a city-wide vantage point. From this macro level it is clear that the setup is not great. In fact, it is terrible. I can think of at least three broad areas why:

  1. Downtime: Rather than a fleet of buses that traverse the length and breadth of a city continuously throughout the day each day, we have these fleets that work twice a day (beginning and end) and are parked the rest of the time. The drivers and buses are underutilised.
  2. Duplication/Lack of Scale: Does each institution need its own bus(es) for staff travelling from Victoria Island to Ikorodu? It should be better to aggregate all commuters along this route and to find a solution for this big problem rather than having several micro solutions.
  3. Lower efficiency: Transportation is not the primary business of any of these institutions. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that they haven’t managed to develop the competence to achieve the efficiencies of a pure play transport provider.

All of this amounts to a wasteful, expensive and staggeringly inefficient setup. But it is also a frustratingly familiar arrangement. We have several templates for how we end up with miniaturised, private solutions for what are vast, public challenges that require scale interventions. We use boreholes with local filtration systems rather than pipe borne water. We import ship loads of refined fuel which are transported on trucks on our torn roads rather than vast refineries that rely on pipes. We use small domestic generators to power our homes intermittently rather than an electricity grid that provides 24-hour electricity. The list goes on and on and on and on.