COSTLY TRANSPORT

How Kenyans navigated public transport amid social distancing measures

Kenyans lamented over the hike in prices but there was little they could do

In Summary
  • For a majority of Kenyans who use public transport, they had to part with double the normal price they used to pay to get from one point to the other.
  • Public transport vehicles were directed to implement social distancing measures where 14-seater vehicles were required to carry 8 people.
A busy matatu stage.
A busy matatu stage.
Image: FILE

On the chilly Monday morning, March 23, 2020, things were not being done as usual in matatus following the announcement of the first covid-19 case in Kenya on March 13.

For a majority of Kenyans who use public transport, they had to part with double the normal price they used to pay to get from one point to the other.

When the health CS Mutahi Kagwe announced the first case, he gave various measures for matatus and buses to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

Public transport vehicles were directed to implement social distancing measures where 14-seater vehicles were required to carry 8 people.

The 25-seater vehicles were to reduce capacity  ferry 14 passengers while those with a capacity of 30 persons were required to transport 60 percent of their space.

"Following the Ministry of Health Advisory on March 20 2020, this bus shall only be able to serve a maximum of 17 passengers per trip. To be able to effectively serve you, we have adjusted our fares slightly as follows: Utawala- Town =200/, Town-Utawala=150/," read a notice in one of the matatus on the route.

Other routes that were affected include Donholm, Jogoo Road, Mombasa Road, Waiyaki Way, and Ngong Road.

Along Waiyaki Way, a distance where people would typically pay about Sh30 is now being charged Sh80, which is almost triple the price.

For those who live in Syokimau, they had to pay Sh200 for a trip to the CBD , the price was normally at most Sh100.

Kenyans lamented over the hike in prices but there was little they could do, as they still needed to move from one point to another.

"My weekly transport budget was really stretched this year, i used to use Sh1500 per week on transport but with the hiked fares the budget had to shoot to Sh3000," said Sharon Akinyi who stays in Utawala.

For John Musyoka, it is a different case. He stays in Syokimau but works in Nyeri therefore every weekend he used to come to Nairobi then take another bus to Syokimau but this had to change with the fare hikes.

"With the fare hikes I am not able to see my family every week nowadays as I would like, fare from Nyeri to Nairobi shot to Sh700 from Sh300 while from town to Syokimau shot to Sh150 from Sh100 this was very expesnive for me," said John.

Over 90 per cent of the country’s population depends on public transport with more than 60,000 licensed public service vehicles.

In April, President Uhuru Kenyatta imposed a three-week ban on movement in and out of four main coronavirus “infected areas”, including the capital, Nairobi.

This dealt a major blow to the various PSV operators who operated in and out of the capital city.

The operators were now forced to ground their vehicles following the government directive to stop the spread of Covid-19 with some diverting to start transporting cargo.

President Uhuru on July 6 then  lifted restrictions on movement into and out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area, and Mombasa and Mandera counties paving the way for a conditional resumption of PSV operations.

Commuter fares on key long-distance routes rose by up to 67 percent as public service vehicles (PSVs) resumed operations

Passengers travelling to Mombasa from Nairobi were to pay Sh,000 compared to Sh1,200 previously while those headed to Kisumu from the capital city parted with up to Sh2,100 against an old rate of Sh1,500.

On the Nairobi-Nakuru route, commuter fares jumped to Sh700 from Sh400, an increase of 67 percent.

The fares increased mainly because of carrying less passengers and the PSVs still had to cover operational costs.

Majority of Kenyans will continue digging deeper to move from one point to another as public service operators dismiss any chances of bringing fares down.

They argue the cost of doing business remains high in the wake of the coronavirus forcing them to uphold current fares which have increased by at least 66 per cent.

This, coupled with the cost of spares, the routine serving of vehicles, insurance and seasonal licenses makes the business costly, hence operators cannot afford to reduce fares.

"PSV operators had to increase fare for passengers as they have to meet the operational costs therefore Kenyans should understand this, when we are able to control the Covid-19 situtaion and the vehicles go back to full capacity things will return to normal," said Chairman, Matatu Owners Association, Simon Kimutai.

Transporters have reported low business during this Christmas season when traditionally, demand for road transport is always high as Kenyans travel upcountry and to the Coast for festivities.

According to the MOA there are low passenger numbers from Nairobi to other parts of the country, as PSVs operate on half capacity.

"Bus fares are expected to remain on average for the different routes as opposed to spikes seen during the Christmas season," Kimutai said.