KAGWE WARNED AGAINST PROFITEERING

Matatus blame state directive for fare hike amid public outrcy

Some public transport operators have taken advantage of the Covid-19 crisis.

In Summary

• On Friday last week, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe announced that passenger service vehicles should carry fewer passengers.

• All routes are affected and passengers say the high transport expenses they incur will make it difficult for them to sustain their travel.

Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi, on March 30, 2016.
CONGESTION: Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi, on March 30, 2016.
Image: JACK OWUOR

Most public transport operators have taken advantage of Covid-19 to exploit travellers despite the government's warning against profiteering.

On Friday last week, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe directed public service vehicles to carry fewer passengers as part of efforts to fight the virus. The directive has taken a heavy toll on passengers, some of whom have had to pay more than double the fares they paid previously. 

They might continue to feel the pinch as the Covid-19 situation is not getting any better. Confirmed cases are on the rise. Thirty-one people have been confirmed positive and only one person has recovered. 

 

The 14-seater matatus were ordered to carry eight passengers, 25-seater buses to carry 15 passengers and those with at least 30-seat capacity to maintain 60 per cent occupancy.

All routes are affected by the fare hike and passengers have to incur huge transport expenses that they did not anticipate. They say it will be difficult for them to sustain their travel. Those commuting from the Nairobi CBD to Westlands now pay Sh50 instead of Sh20. 

Across the city, the cry is the same — we are hurting. Alice Gathoni said she had to pay Sh80 from Sameer, Tajmall, to Astral Transnami, from the usual Sh50. She said the matatu crews are taking advantage of the situation. 

"The conductor initially told me I would pay Sh70. Along the way, he allowed another passenger to board in total disregard for the directive. When I raised my concerns, he said I would pay Sh100," she said.

In defence of the commuters, Matatu Welfare Association chairman Dickson Mbugua cautioned the operators to be considerate. He also urged them to comply with the occupancy directive at all times.

"It is for them to weigh the situation as it is. Doubling the fare is unfair," he said.

However, matatu owners say they are not to blame. They have asked the government to provide fuel subsidies so they stop passing on the cost to commuters.

 

Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai had told the Star that with the virus and orders from the government, the cost of doing business was high.

"The mistake the government did was fail to provide a remedy when they ordered we carry fewer passengers. At least they should come in and reduce or remove fuel taxes," he said.

Raphael Mumo from the Ministry of Health trains matatu operators on safety measures against Covid-19 at City Hall on March 25.
TAMING SPREAD: Raphael Mumo from the Ministry of Health trains matatu operators on safety measures against Covid-19 at City Hall on March 25.
Image: MERCY MUMO

Meanwhile, about 25 matatu Saccos in Nairobi attended sensitisation forum on Wednesday at Charter Hall, City Hall.

The forum was led by Dr Raphael Muli, the Assistant Director for Public Health and Head of Diseases Surveillance from the Ministry of Health. He emphasised the need to disinfect matatus regularly after trips.

"The virus is with us, but we have to play a key role in curbing its spread. The majority of Kenyans are commuters and the matatu operators should do everything possible to make them feel safe," Muli said.

The operators, including drivers and conductors, were taught how to help in combating the virus. The Health ministry targets at least 100 Saccos by Saturday to educate them on the seriousness of Covid-19 and how the PSV can fight it, especially when a passenger shows suspected symptoms.

Raphael Mumo from the Ministry of Health trains matatu operators in safety measures against Covid-19 at City Hall on March 25.
NEW DIRECTIVES FOR SAFETY: Raphael Mumo from the Ministry of Health trains matatu operators in safety measures against Covid-19 at City Hall on March 25.
Image: MERCY MUMO

The matatu team was led by MWA chairman Mbugua. They highlighted the challenges they face.

"We were advised to be on the lookout and observe how the commuters behave, especially when one coughs. If it is not done properly, our people will talk to them. All windows should at least be open for the free circulation of air," Mbugua said.

In terms of challenges, Mbugua said there was no proper system on the mobile phone transaction in terms of bus fare payments.

"We need a proper strategy for payment. Where all money can be sent to the matatu driver and at the end it is sent to the Sacco. Hopefully, we shall have it figured out this weekend," he said.

(Edited by F'Orieny)