Why African cities turn to Ivory Coast boat buses

The inner-city boat buses of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, have caught the eyes of other African cities struggling with their traffic problems.

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    Commuters line up to board a ‘boat bus’ in downtown Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

It’s 6:30 a.m., and it’s already 90 degrees F. in Abidjan’s downtown core. The daily traffic jams that plague many African cities start early, but that doesn’t make them any less stuffy, polluted, and suffocating.

Yet here in Ivory Coast’s biggest city, a fleet of inner-city “boat buses” – short-commuting ferries – whisk passengers from one end of the city to the other in minutes, bypassing the bumper-to-bumper rush hour out on the waves of the Ebrie Lagoon.

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While ferries – which travel between cities, or cities and islands – are common around the world, a true inner-city boat bus is fairly unique. The system provides a breath of fresh air in a city clogged with idling cars and a collective solution in a part of the world that is all too well known for its poor government services.

At the busy plateau station, port master Edouard Kouetto directs traffic from a glassed-in booth. The former Navy captain boasts that for 30 cents – less than the price of a regular bus ticket – he can have you home in 10 minutes, while those driving could be stuck on the road for more than an hour.

Lines form at the turnstiles, which allow 94 people – the exact capacity of each boat – down onto the quay. Everyone gets a seat for safety reasons, but this also means that commuters can stretch out their legs and open the windows. It’s a breezy, roomy experience when compared with the crowd of bodies on a bus.

The inner-city boat buses have caught the eyes of other African cities struggling with their traffic problems. Cotonou in nearby Benin recently signed a contract to bring Ivorian boats and expertise there, while Brazzaville in Congo and Libreville in Gabon are negotiating to do the same.

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