Traffic chaos: Rethink public transport issue

The public transport crisis in parts of Nairobi following the new directive barring matatus from entering the city centre may not end soon unless the Government thinks of a more creative way of handling the situation.

Monday, the matatu operators resorted playing hard ball, blocking Jogoo Road, one of the city’s busiest, to demonstrate their anger over the directive.

And although police were able to disperse the protesters, even tow away their vehicles with which they had blocked the road, the fact remains that the directive was poorly thought-out.

For the past week, Jogoo road has turned into a motorists’ nightmare. The snarl-up arising from diverting matatus to the new Muthurwa terminus, away from city centre has caused deep frustration.

While we acknowledge the noble motive behind the plan, namely, to decongest the city, we are appalled at the level of unpreparedness that the city authorities, the police and the central government displayed.

Clearly, there was no proper plan to accommodate the passenger vehicles and ensure their quick turn-around to their routes.

Worse, commuters have been pushed to the edge. They are dropped off too far from their workplaces, overcharged for the short but tormenting journeys, or forced to walk long distances to the city centre.

In developed cities of the world, efficient public transport is a guaranteed service. Fast and reliable road and rail transport are common. This is what is missing in our part of the world, which is why matatus have become indispensable.

The city authorities have to make a choice between two evils – decongestion of the city centre or paralysis of road transport, and loss in productivity.

Local Government minister Uhuru Kenyatta and City Hall must go back to the drawing board. First they must rescind the ban temporarily as they seek alternative ways of addressing the congestion in the city. Second, and most important, they should devise a comprehensive urban transport system.

The directive by Mr Kenyatta was motivated by the noblest of intentions – decongesting the city centre – but its implementation was not only ill-timed but extremely punitive.

Mass transit system

Since Thursday last week, commuters and matatu operators alike had been expressing disquiet with the new rule that they regarded as obstructive and without merit – one of the rarest instances that the operators and their long-suffering customers had spoken in one voice.

There are just a few questions that require answers. For how long can this crisis be allowed to fester untreated?

There has never been any shortage of suggestions, even expert studies, indicating what the central Government and the City Hall should do.

The most responsible, and cost-effective so far, has been to seek ways of introducing an intra-city mass transit service in which a fleet of shuttle buses plies the city from specific places in the suburbs dropping commuters in stages set aside for that purpose.

This will allow those who do not want to drive into the city to leave private vehicles at well-secured parking lots, then they board the shuttle buses to and from the city.

And to discourage private motorists driving into the city, a prohibitive toll is imposed so that only the very rich can drive up in style every morning.

What is so difficult about the City Council seeking funds to purchase this fleet of shuttle buses, charging a minimal fare, and making a tidy profit into the bargain while de-clogging the city?

Not only will this short-term measure do the job that City Hall is trying to do, it will also give the Government time to plan and execute grand schemes like an elaborate subway or tramway service.

Kenyans are suffering for no good reason. They want their city decongested, but not at the expense of their jobs and businesses.

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