In Niger, the city of Niamey wants to streamline small-scale transport
This article is a collaboration between the Journalism and Media Lab (Jamlab), ASToN and Civic Tech Innovation Network (CTIN).
The capital of Niger is a fast-growing city and intends to make a major impact by improving the management of traditional forms of transport using digital technology — a particularly important project for Niamey’s urban citizens who depend on this form of transport.
“The sector has never been modernised, the work is done in a traditional way, and everything is recorded in registers. We are in the 21st century, we must adapt!” This is how Ibrahim Agali, representative of the transport unions in Niger, describes the traditional transport sector in the Niger capital, Niamey.
“The project will make our work easier, today we manage more than ten thousand taxis and minibuses, traditionally called faba,” according to Ali Sanda, director of urban transport in Niamey till February 2022. This is a major challenge for the city, which hosts most of the country’s urban population.
According to Dr Yaye Sadiou Haidara, in Niamey, the public urban transport company (SOTRUNI), which serves the various districts of Niamey and the outlying villages, “is experiencing enormous difficulties in its operations” as it is not able to “offer the inhabitants of Niamey a satisfactory public transport service”.
The many small-scale and traditional actors thus fill the gaps. For Ali Sanda, traditional transport plays a significant role, as it allows “constant transport and mobility of the population, especially in cities like Niamey where the outskirts do not have sufficient infrastructure”.
This digitalisation project is being done by Niamey in the framework of ASToN, a network which brings together 11 African cities to develop digital practices to create sustainable and inclusive cities. The main guidelines of the Niamey action plan aim to “digitise the procedures for issuing driving licences, create a digital platform for collaboration between the various stakeholders in the informal transport sector, experiment with mobile payment of the monthly tax and finally implement a communication plan integrating change management”, explains the project coordinator, Ousmane Mamane.
Taxi owner Amadou Boube Ego has been waiting for change for twenty years since he started working in the sector: “Converting a vehicle into a taxi has become an obstacle course and the administrative documents are expensive and difficult to obtain, it’s a painful process and we don’t see any benefits”. Ego told us that he had not received information about a project to streamline small-scale transport in Niamey.
Stakeholders hope that these efforts will have an impact on road safety and traffic in the city. In Niamey, 8,010 accidents were reported in 2019 causing about 100 deaths and many injuries.
“The digitisation of the management of urban transport gives the possibility of real-time management of the system and this will undoubtedly improve the situation and reduce the number of deaths,” according to the local ASToN coordinator.
The director of urban transport states that “by creating a platform for the different actors to exchange (the union, the police, the city), control will be easier, and the safety of the population will be guaranteed.”
Agali is also clear about the prospects expected from this project: “ASToN will help us to modernise the sector and it will also allow us to make the customer more secure and to make control easier for the police and the transport department.”
According to Ego: “To drive a taxi you need nine official documents and if you are missing one of them, your vehicle is immediately sent to the pound by the police, who themselves lack information and training. They do not know the laws, abuse their power, and indulge in corruption.” This makes him incredibly angry.
Mamane reassures us that digitalisation will promote “real control” of the number of authorised vehicles, which in the long term, according to him, “will facilitate the involvement of the administration in terms of training, supervision, information and awareness, etc.”
In this context, the municipal and state authorities will collaborate, but also the public and private sector through “the development of partnerships, technical assistance and financial support,” according to Mamane, who believes that digitalisation also offers the possibility of an improved tax collection system for local authorities.
“There is a huge loss of time in managing the paperwork and the system is not secure,” according to the director of urban transport, who believes that with digitisation “all these problems will logically be solved, because the city will have a reliable database.”
In the meantime, the local action group tabled a plan for the trial of mobile payment by taxis and other vehicles, based on a sample of eighty taxis and twenty other minibuses. A trial that they hope will be conclusive. Taxi driver Amadou Ego welcomes the initiative for the moment with a touch of pessimism. “Some people benefit from this administrative mess. It might be an innovative idea, but…” he says.
For more information on the 11 ASToN cities, visit www.aston-network.org.
Written by Moussa Ngom.