Traffic, corruption, and a 40 mile traffic jam in Lagos

A journalist recounts being stuck for 12 hours in a 40 mile traffic jam in Lagos and ties his experience to the level of corruption in Nigeria:

But the biggest problem appears to be the unsavory ties between Nigeria’s political and business elites. Under the military dictatorships of General Ibrahim Babangida and then General Sani Abacha, both from the north, a small group of northerners came to dominate the trucking business. These men have reportedly played a key role in shooting down every effort to improve or privatize the country’s moribund, British-built rail system, ensuring that almost all goods must move by road.

According to Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), “Traffic behavior is more or less directly related to levels of government corruption.” Vanderbilt cites a clear correlation between traffic-fatality rates per miles driven and a country’s ranking on Transparency International’s corruption index. (In terms of road safety, the Scandinavian countries fare the best; Nigeria is near the bottom of the list.)

In March, Nigerian authorities made an attempt to unclog the highway, arresting illegally parked truckers and confiscating 120 vehicles. The Nigeria Truck Owners Association retaliated by calling a one-day strike that crippled the ports. The next day, traffic was as calcified as ever. About half a dozen agencies—the Inter-Ministerial Implementation Committee on Port Approach Roads in Lagos, the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency, the Federal Road Safety Commission, the Vehicle Inspection Officers—share responsibility for keeping traffic moving on the highway, but all of them are considered toothless.

Does Vanderbilt’s correlation hold independent of a host of other factors (such as central government spending on highways, etc.)?

I suspect experiences like these would leave Americans much more grateful for their roads and highways which they can tend to complain about. It reminds me of the 2010 story of a “nine day, 100 km” traffic jam outside of Beijing. This sort of stuff simply does not happen in the United States, even in the worst case scenarios such as really bad accidents (like the smoke-caused one earlier this year in Florida) or natural disasters (such as evacuating New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina). Granted, Americans may lose many hours a year in congestion, particularly in big cities, but the traffic does eventually clear and it does have a predictability to it. In other words, well-paved, maintained, and policed roads should not be taken for granted: they aren’t guaranteed in much of the world.

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