OUTCRY

PSV transport sector is collapsing – operators

Hope President Uhuru Kenyatta's today speech considers the plights of the industry.

In Summary

•According to the Matatu Owners Association, operators have been forced to dig into their capital to maintain vehicles as revenues remain low.

•A 2018 survey by Deloitte found that 70 per cent of Nairobi's population, the country's economic nerve, is dependent on the matatu industry to move around.

A busy matatu stage.
A busy matatu stage.
Image: FILE

Kenya's public transport sector operators are accusing the the government of double standards in executing Covid-19 protocols even as they struggle to stay afloat.

Social distancing in Public Service Vehicle (PSV) which has been in place since March 2020 has seen vehicles operate on half capacity, with industry insiders putting the monthly losses at an estimated at Sh15 billion.

This is on the more than 60,000 matatus and buses operating countrywide on a normal day, each raking in an average Sh15,000, according to the Matatu Owners Association(MOA).

It puts the industry’s gross earnings at more than Sh1.05 billion a day, translating into more than Sh30 billion a month.

Since March last year, 14-seater vehicles have been carrying eight people while 25-seater vehicles have been restricted to 14 passengers.

Those with a capacity of 30 persons are allowed to utilise 60 per cent of their space.

We are eating into our capital to maintain vehicles as revenues remain low. This is compromising the standards on maintenance. Soon or later, we will not be able to operate. The industry is collapsing
Matatu Owners Association chairman, Simon Kimutai.

Mash East Africa, one of the leading bus companies operating in Kenya and the region, has been carrying 24 passengers on its bus which have a capacity to carry 44 persons.

The company has at least 60 buses operating in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, according to general manager Lennox Shalo.

With 50 per cent business, operators have been forced to dig into their savings to maintain vehicles with more than 20 per cent of vehicles in the matatu industry having been forced to pull out of business, MOA said yesterday.

We are eating into our capital to maintain vehicles as revenues remain low. This is compromising the standards on maintenance,” MOA chairman Simon Kimutai told the Star yesterday,.

He said sooner or later they will not be able to operate as the industry is collapsing.

Meanwhile, the industry players have questioned the rationale behind the government's green light to the Standard Gauge Railway(SGR) and airlines to carry full capacity, while matatus are restricted to half capacity.

We are drivers of the economy yet we are being discriminated on the social distancing rule,” Kimutai said, hoping today's address by the President will factor in concerns by the industry, including considerations to have them resume normal operations.

Human rights activist and Haki Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid has also said the recently launched SGR night train demonstrates the double standards of the Covid-19 measures dictated by the government.

These unequal measures continue to benefit government-supported businesses so they flourish at the expense of the privately owned businesses,” Khalid said in a written opinion on March 6.

Motorists Association of Kenya has also insisted that government policies should not discriminate.

“There are two things. Either restriction applies for all or lifted for all,” chairman Peter Murima told the Star, noting that people have continued to mingle in public places such as markets, the SGR and airlines.

A 2018 survey by Deloitte found that 70 per cent of Nairobi's population, the country's economic nerve , is dependent on the matatu industry to move around, as the country lacks a well coordinated government transport system.

Previous strikes by the private sector operators have always threatened to bring down the city's economy.

Yesterday, Kimutai ruled out any plans to hold a strike, saying: “We have tried to be as diplomatic as possible.”

The transport ministry has however on several occasions defended airlines and SGR operations, noting they maintain high standards and follow health protocols to the latter.

Transport PS Solomon Kitungu in a recent response to the Star said the SGR operator had only re-arranged its trains.

We have only rearranged trains in a different way to create more space,” Kitungu said, adding 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 was 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.

Last year, Kenya Railways unveiled the Diesel Multiple Units (DMU) trains as part of plans to revamp the Nairobi Commuter Rail System, aimed at reducing traffic congestion within the city.