Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

The daily grind of commuting in Africa's economic hubs

By Robyn Curnow and Teo Kermeliotis, CNN
April 5, 2012 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
From Lagos to Johannesburg and Nairobi, many Africans face traffic jams and high costs in their daily journey to get to work. From Lagos to Johannesburg and Nairobi, many Africans face traffic jams and high costs in their daily journey to get to work.
HIDE CAPTION
Lagos, Nigeria
Johannesburg, South Africa
Lagos, Nigeria
Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi, Kenya
Lagos, Nigeria
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Commuting in Africa's economic hubs is often an arduous task
  • From Johannesburg to Lagos and Nairobi, getting to work is slow and often expensive
  • Long queues and cramped commutes are some of the problems

(CNN) -- Day after day, men and women from Soweto, a township near Johannesburg, wake up at the crack of dawn to battle bumper-to-bumper traffic and cramped public transport to show up at work in time.

For Mxolishi Colossa, who works at a Johannesburg home furniture store, it's no different. Every morning, he quietly slips out of his house at 6 a.m. and heads to the nearest main street. There, standing by a dusty road, he waits patiently for a minibus taxi to pass by and carry him to the local train station.

But it's not just the waiting that tests Colossa's early start to the day -- the high cost of the ride and the dangerous driving can be equally distressing.

"All of them, same style," says Colossa, referring to the perilous way in which many of the taxi drivers navigate the area's roads.

As the dawn fades away, Colossa jumps off the taxi to catch a train to Johannesburg. Fourteen stops later he pulls into the city but he still has to get another taxi to take him to the other side of Johannesburg, to Melrose Arch, the plush shopping area where he works.

Commuting in Johannesburg

He finally arrives at the store at 8.30 a.m. -- a full two-and-a-half hours after leaving his home.

"It's not acceptable for people to have to take multiple legs of a journey to get to work," says Rehana Moosajee of the Mayoral Committee for Transport in Johannesburg.

Improving Johannesburg's transport

See more: Concerns over 'insanity' of Shell South Africa fracking plans

Despite some of the best roads on the continent and a number of high-profile infrastructure projects, including a high-speed train and a bus service built for the 2010 football World Cup, commuting in Johannesburg is often an arduous task for millions of people.

The slick new services often don't connect with each other and older public transport systems, leaving poor and working-class people struggling to get to work. Last year, in IBM's Commuter Pain Survey, Johannesburg was ranked fifth worst in terms of the amount of pain commuters suffer getting to and from work.

Moosajee admits that the current transit situation doesn't cater well to the economic needs of Johannesburg, adding that the city is working to better integrate its transport system.

"We are now trying to transform our cityscape to bring communities together, and the impact of the number of transfers that people have to do means that people are spending less quality time with their family, that they're spending more and more time in transit, affecting productivity, affecting the economy," she says.

For Colossa, the grind of commuting means he has to dedicate five hours a day to travel to and from work. The fragmented journey also means that he has to spend a third of his salary on public transport, with the remainder spent on food, bills and rent.

Colossa's story is echoed not only around Johannesburg but in many other economic hubs across Africa.

In Nairobi, home to three million people, citizens face the fourth most painful commute, according to IBM's survey. Two out of three people in Kenya's capital say that congestion has a negative impact on their work, family and health, IBM reports.

Read more: Can Kenya avoid Africa's resource curse?

But besides nerves and frustration, traffic jams in Nairobi cost the economy over 50 million Kenyan shillings ($600,000) per day in lost productivity, fuel consumption and pollution, according to official figures.

Andre Dzikus, of U.N. Habitat, says the organization is helping Kenya to tackle some of the challenges brought about by population growth, urbanization and a rapid increase in motor-vehicle ownership. Its "Promoting Sustainable Transport Solutions for East African Cities" project aims to reduce growth in private motor vehicles, thus reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse-gas emissions.

The people of Lagos are yearning for regulated means of transportation.
Dayo Mobereola, managing director of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority

In Lagos, one of the world's megacities, getting to work often requires strong nerves. Snail-paced traffic and high costs test commuters' endurance as millions of people cram the streets of Nigeria's economic nerve center on a daily basis.

Commuters often depend on a ragtag array of service providers, such as minibus operators, who can charge whatever prices they want.

"They might charge $1 in the morning for one trip one way and by afternoon they can go to $3," says Dayo Mobereola, managing director of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, noting that commuters spend on average 40% of their income on transportation.

Mobereola says that in recent years the city has taken a series of steps to improve its public transportation offering, including the launch of a regulated bus rapid-transit system in 2008.

Read more: Underwater cables bring faster internet to West Africa

More recently, it has begun work to develop a reliable and affordable urban rail system. Two railway lines are already under development as the ambitious project, which will eventually consist of seven lines, aims to relieve Lagos of chronic gridlock and unregulated services.

"The people of Lagos are yearning for regulated means of transportation," says Mobereola.

Back in Johannesburg, Colossa is about to begin his journey back to Soweto. Two and a half hours later he'll be home -- before doing it all again in the morning.

Do you live in one of Africa's economic hubs? Use the comments section below to tell us how you commute to work in your city.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Africa
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
What does it mean to be Nigerian? That's the question on the lips of many in Nigeria as new national identity cards are being rolled out.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
 General view of an oil offshore platform owned by Total Fina Elf in the surroundings waters of the Angolan coast 15 October 2003. The 11 members of the OPEC oil cartel have agreed to slash output by a million barrels a day, the OPEC president said 11 October 2006, in a move aimed at shoring up sliding world crude prices.
Six of the top 10 global oil and gas discoveries last year were made in Africa -- but can these finds transform the continent?
February 20, 2014 -- Updated 1121 GMT (1921 HKT)
A South African app allows buyers to pay for goods using their phone, without having to worry about carrying cash or credit cards.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
A Zambian computer tablet -- known as the ZEduPad -- is trying to open up the country's information highway.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
South Africa may be the dominant force in Africa's wine economy, but other countries are making inroads in the industry.
January 6, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Commuters aboard an overloaded passenger train 03 February 2004, celebrate after arrival at the train station in the centre of the capital Nairobi.
A $5 billion Chinese-funded railway project in Kenya could transform transport in east Africa.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT)
African astronomers want world-class observatories to inspire young scientists and build a tech economy.
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
A new report praises South Africa's economic transformation since apartheid. But enormous challenges remain.
November 19, 2013 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Landlocked Burundi is looking to compete on the international stage as one of Africa's most prestigious coffee producers and exporters.
November 22, 2013 -- Updated 1718 GMT (0118 HKT)
zword app zombies
From zombie spelling games to walking snails, Africa's mobile gaming industry is taking off across the continent from Uganda to South Africa.
November 8, 2013 -- Updated 1146 GMT (1946 HKT)
Ethiopia is turning to renewable energy technology as the East African country looks to become a powerhouse for its regional partners.
November 4, 2013 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Downtown Johannesburg -- once a no-go zone riddled with crime -- is undergoing urban restoration.
October 16, 2013 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
Using helicopters and night-vision, crime syndicates are taking rhino poaching to a new level and conservation parks are struggling to keep up.
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Eko Atlantic city design concept
A lack of infrastructure has hindered Africa's development, but a series of megaprojects could change that.
Each week Marketplace Africa covers the continent's macro trends and interviews a major player from the region's business community.
ADVERTISEMENT