Kenyans fail to gain from six fuel price drops as fares remain high

Matatus, SGR, boda boda and taxi fares went up when fuel prices increased.

In Summary

•A litre of diesel has fallen by a cumulative Sh25.09 at the pump since November last year, currently retailing at Sh180.38.

•Super petrol which was going for Sh217.36 has come down by about Sh23.52 to Sh193.84, giving motorists and boda boda operators a huge relief.

Matatus along Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi's CBD/ FILE
Matatus along Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi's CBD/ FILE

Commuters in the country have continued to pay exorbitant fares despite fuel prices dropping in the last six successive pricing cycles, with Nairobi residents taking the biggest hit on daily movement.

Fares on all major public transport modes–matatu’s, SGR, taxis and boda bodas have remained high, denying travellers the much-needed relief that would have come with the pump prices drop.

For instance, the price of diesel, which is widely used in the public transport sector, both matatus, buses and the Standard Gauge Railway, has dropped by about 12.2 per cent in the past six month.

A litre has fallen by a cumulative Sh25.09 at the pump since November last year with the Energy, Petroleum and Regulatory Authority (EPRA) setting the maximum price for the April-May cycle at Sh180.38.

This is down from Sh205.47 in the October-November cycle.

Super petrol which was going for Sh217.36 has come down to Sh193.84, giving motorists and boda boda operators a huge relief on fuel spending. It has dropped by Sh23.52 since December.

Kerosene, used in poor homes for lighting and cooking, is now retailing at Sh170.06 per litre, down from Sh205.06 in November last year, having cumulatively dropped by Sh35.

The Kenyan shilling has also gained against the US dollar, reducing the cost of imports, which translates to cheaper spare parts in the local market.

While the Matatu Owners Association had indicated its members would cut fares, operators have continued to force commuters and long-distance travellers to dig deep for movement across different routes.

Long-distance fares have remained high on major routes after increasing by up to 50 per cent late last year.

A spot check by the Star has noted fares on Nairobi-Mombasa route are still averaging Sh2,000 since going up from Sh1,500.

Travellers on the Nairobi-Kisumu route are paying between Sh1,500 and Sh1,600, up from a low of Sh1,000-Sh1,200 last year.

On the Mombasa route to western region destinations, travellers are paying between Sh2,800 and Sh3,800 depending on the final destination, with Busia and Malaba border towns having the highest mark.

Mombasa to Lamu is now costing travellers Sh1,500 up from Sh1, 000 when prices went up as a result of increases in fuel prices last year.

In Turkana, prices are however unchanged despite ranging floods cutting several roads and bridges connecting the county with Kitale.

For instance, buses playing Lodwar -Lokichar Road are charging an average of Sh550, a similar amount charged before the onset of ongoing rains. Buses have retained an average price of Sh1,200 from Lodwar to Kitale.

Direct buses from Nairobi to Lodwar  are charging Sh2,400, an amount that has been retained since December. This was however after an increase from an average Sh2,200.

In Nairobi, commuters are still dealing with high fares since December when they increased by between Sh20-Sh30 on major routes, which was pegged on increases in fuel prices at the time.

For instance, operators on the Umoja-Central Business District route are charging between Sh80 and Sh100 during peak hours, a route that averaged Sh70 before the fare hike towards the end of last year, which operators blamed on the then increases in pump prices.

Kasarani-CBD remains at between Sh80-Sh100 during peak hours, almost similar with the Embakasi route, Ngong, Kiserian and Rongai, with fares averaging Sh100 during rush hour.

Overall, fares remain high by up to Sh30 on majority of the city routes.

“I don’t feel the impact of the falling fuel prices. A conductor on the Kasarani route the other day told me to allow them to continue robbing us, that they will not deplete out pockets even if they charge double,”Alfred Onyango, a city resident told the Star.

The ongoing rains have worsened the situation for city dwellers where Nairobi operators charge up to three times the normal fares whenever there is heavy traffic on the roads.

For instance on Thursday, matatus were charging Sh80 from Westlands to the Central Business District, where it is normally Sh30.

The Matatu Owners Association (MOA) has however defended its members saying they have brought down fares on different routes including long-distance travel.

“Most long distance have brought down the costs and we continue engaging our members to reduce fares. If you come across a Sacco that is till charging exorbitant fares, please let us know we will engage them. We are keen to pass the benefits of lower fuel prices to Kenyans,” MOA president Albert Karakacha told the Star on the telephone.

On the high Nairobi fares during rains, Karakacha said operators are forced to pass the costs that come with time wasted on traffic to passengers.

He said the same is done during off-peak hours when operators significantly reduce fares on the different city routes, even as he noted that the matatu industry remains the cheapest mode of transport in the country.

The Consumer Federation of Kenya (COFEK) has however accused the matatu industry of being quick to raise fares when fuel prices increase even by small margins but fail to act during drops.

“This is a definition of a bandit economy. From their culture, we don’t expect them to bring down the fares. It is a cartel behaviour where they maximise on increases but fail to pass any benefits when prices go down with excuses of spares and other non-factors,” Cofek secretary general Stephen Mutoro told the Star.

Kenya Railways which increased SGR fares at the Star of January is also not seen to pass any benefits to travellers.

Fares on the main Nairobi-Mombasa route increased by 50 per cent in January, with a first class ticket for an adult now going for Sh4,500 up from Sh3,000, while an economy class ticket costs Sh1,500 up from Sh1,000.

The boda boda industry has also defended their fares saying the pubic were reluctant to pay more when fuel prices went up.

“Why should riders reduce now when our customers refused to pay more when pump prices hit the roof. However, individual riders and customers have always bargained and agreed on what to pay so it is not a fixed price,” Kenya Boda boda Association chairman, Charles Gichira, said. 

Digital Taxi Association of Kenya chairman of David Muteru on the other hand distanced its members from the high fares conversations, saying respective apps are responsible for setting the prices.

“We are not responsible for setting fares. It is the application and they use their own algorithm which they have never told us what it entails," Muteru said.

In the long distance travel, Easy Coach, one of the biggest long-distance bus companies with over 35 destinations, however hinted of a possible drop.

"Awaiting a reduction on the wholesale price, none so far. Thereafter, we adjust," managing director Azym Dossa told the Star.

Meanwhile, Cofek has called on the government to offer incentives to companies willing to invest in the public transport sector.

“We need more accountable players in the industry but as at now, we are dealing with faceless individuals who do whatever pleases them,” Mutoro said.

The public has been hoping for a relief in their transport expenses with the falling fuel prices, as transport remains the third biggest consumer of household budgets, accounting for up to 9.65 per cent of monthly spending.

This is after food and non-alcoholic beverages expenses (32.9%) and housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (14.6%).

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the transport index reduced by 0.3 per cent between March and April.

“This was mainly due to a drop in prices of petrol and diesel by 2.7 per cent and 5.2 per cent, respectively,” KNBS director general Mcdonald Obudho said.

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