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Lift social distancing rule in PSVs, operators plead

Industry players question why airlines and SGR are allowed to carry full load

In Summary

•They have accused the government of double tandard on the social distancing rule.

•Matatu owners say the industry is loosing 50 per cent business, translating to about Sh15 billion industry losses a monthy.

Passengers sanitise their hands before boarding a matatu on March 16, 2020/
Passengers sanitise their hands before boarding a matatu on March 16, 2020/
Image: DANIEL OGENDO

Matatu operators have accused the government of double standards on social distancing in the public transport sector, which is hurting their businesses.

They are questioning why rail and airlines are allowed to carry full load yet road public transport operators are restricted to the social distancing rule, which has seen them continue operating on half capacity.

This, they say, is pushing them deeper into the red even as they struggle with up to Sh15 billion in industry monthly losses.

 

They are calling on the government to normalize Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operations across the country, to match with other players in the industry.

“SGR (Standard Gauge Railway) operations are back to normal, airlines are carrying full capacity, why us? We have become the black ship yet we offer critical services that run the economy,” Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai said in an interview with the Star.

Kimutai (MOA chairman) said only 50 per cent of PSV business are back, with social distancing cutting into the industry’s earnings.

There are over 60,000 matatus and buses operating countrywide, each raking in an average Sh15,000 when operating optimally. 

This means the industry’s gross earnings amount to more than Sh1.05 billion on a daily basis, translating into more than Sh30 billion a month when business is normal.

With 50 per cent business, it means the sector is making a loss of about Sh525 million daily, translating to about Sh15 billion (loss) a month.

Kimutai said operators have been forced to dig into their pockets to meet operational costs.

“We are eating into our capital to maintain vehicles as revenues remain low. This is compromising the standards on maintenance,” he said.

He said if allowed to operate at full capacity, the industry will maintain high standards on prevention of Covid-19 spread.

Motorists Association of Kenya chairman Peter Murima yesterday said government policies should not discriminate.

“It is either restriction applies for all or we lift them. People are mingling in markets, SGR and airlines, whys is road transport being seen differently?,” Murima posed.

He also noted that the PSV industry plays a critical role in moving the majority of the country’s population, contributing hugely to the economy.

“That is why the government could not afford to completely shut it down,” he noted, “but rules should apply fairly.”

Transport PS Solomon Kitungu however defended airlines and SGR operations saying for SGR, the operator has only re-arranged its trains.

 

“We have only rearranged trains in a different way to create more space,” Kitungu told the Star on phone.

He added that planes have their own systems to manage the environment within the aircraft, with all passengers on a mandatory requirement to sanitise and wear surgical masks.

He said the government is looking into the appeal by PSV operators to be allowed to operate at full capacity.

“We had a meeting with them and that is something that is in discussion. It is a health issue and it is under consideration,” Kitungu said.

Transporters say they are still soaking in losses despite adjustment on the curfew hours from 11pm-4am, giving them more operating time compared to when it used to start at 7pm and later 9pm.

“We are still experiencing loss of revenue because operational costs are still the same. Carrying few passengers is a big challenge,” Mash East Africa, general manager, Lennox Shalo, told the Star yesterday.

The company has at least 60 buses operating in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, offering long-distance passenger services.

Shalo said despite the adjustment of curfew hours, the company has not been able to increase its operational capacity due to reduced movement.

“Operations are still the same. No additional buses,” he said, “The second wave of the pandemic has also reduced movement of passengers. Majority are now even afraid of traveling.”

Easy Coach, which serves a vast part of Western Kenya, Nyanza and Rift Valley region with a fleet of about 100 buses, yesterday said it is only making 50 per cent of its normal revenues.

It only has on day-time operations as the night forbids overnight travel.

“Direct operating costs; fuel, spares, tyres, crew and mechanics wages, depreciation remain the same per trip but the fares collection is 50 per cent due to social distancing,” Managing director Azym Dossa told the Star.

He said they are getting low revenues amid high operation costs.

“Destination offices with staff must remain operational, rent and utilities to be paid therefore losses are mounting,” he said.