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December 10, 2018

Walking exercise? Sonko’s city matatu ban backfires

Congestion of commuters on the Ngara bridge yesterday following the ban of matatus from entering the CBD /VICTOR IMBOTO
Congestion of commuters on the Ngara bridge yesterday following the ban of matatus from entering the CBD /VICTOR IMBOTO

As Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko kicked matatus out of the CBD to ease congestion yesterday, questions emerged over whether the ban is the appropriate action to end traffic snarl-ups in the city. 

Sonko banned all public service vehicles from accessing the city centre and designated 11 termini for the picking and dropping of passengers, through a gazette notice on Thursday last week. The directive revoked all licences granting matatu saccos spaces in the CBD as stages

Although most PSVs could not access the city centre, traffic congestion became heavier than in previous days. The diversions caused a snarl-up as matatus blocked roads adjacent to the termini.

And as the city centre remained free of all matatus, thousands of city residents walked long distances into town and others remained stranded without a means of getting to workplaces outside the CBD.

Worst hit were commuters who have to commute to CBD before connecting to different places, as the termini are far apart with no vehicles from one terminus to the next. The sick, the elderly and children were also hard hit.

Hopes for a reprieve were dashed after the High Court declined to suspend the matatu ban, following petitions by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja and matatu saccos accusing the governor of not consulting the public and stakeholders before effecting the ban. Both cases will be heard on Thursday.

As the chaos unfolded, Sonko stood his ground while responding to audit queries before the Senate.

“From Muthurwa to the CBD is a one-minute walk. Many people don’t go to the gym. We want our people to exercise,” he said.

BEEN TRIED BEFORE

The plan to remove the PSVs from the CBD was first mooted by former Governor Evans Kidero in 2015 and announced in April the following year, scheduled to start in September of the year after completion of seven termini.

The then Deputy Governor Jonathan Mueke said the plan was achieved after negotiations with matatu operators to get alternative space before removing them.

The termini outside CBD include Muthurwa, Park Road, Ngara, Hakati road-Bus Station, Pumwani, Murang’a Road, Desai Park and Gitanga. 

According to the plan, matatus coming from Central Kenya are expected to terminate their trips at either Murang’a Road or Ngara.

The Machakos Country Bus stop was selected as the terminus for PSVs accessing Nairobi from the eastern side of Nairobi as well as those from the Coast, while those from Western are required to turn at Museum Road and terminate their journeys in Ngara. PSVs from Thika are required to end their trips at Globe Roundabout or Desai Park, or Pumwani.

But the move met resistance from PSV operators, as the county failed to allocate alternative space for them as the stages had limited spaces, and was shelved.

The county government was to seek large capacity vehicles that will ferry passengers, especially those outside the city, from the termini into city centre, to move commuters from one terminus to the other. But those BRTs have not been procured, and many commuters affected by the ban walked long distances to their destinations. 

Managers of PSV saccos bribed City Hall officials and took over all roads in CBD east of Tom Mboya Street, either turning them into parking lots or passenger pick-up or drop-off points. The bribery had led to total disorder in the CBD.

All open spaces along Tom Mboya Street, Luthuli Avenue, Mfangano Street, Accra Road and Latema Road have been turned into matatu parking bays, causing both human and vehicular congestion, which has affected business. 

Nairobi commuter Simon Oringa faulted the resulting chaos. "The irregular allocation of matatu stages in CBD has largely contributed to the congestion. Sonko should have revoked those licences and remove matatus that occupy spaces not designated as bus stops, banning all of them," he said.  

In Sonko's plan, matatus plying Jogoo Road route must terminate their trips in Muthurwa bus terminus. Embassava Sacco chairman John Ongaro said the ban was effected without adequate preparation.

Ongaro said the spaces allocated have limited spaces. "The larger part of Muthurwa has been occupied by hawkers. "We cannot dare drive our vehicles into the terminus to have them stuck in traffic and unable to exit," Ongaro said.  

"It is affecting our business because obviously if your vehicle can't access town while your competitors can, passengers will overlook you and you will be out of business." 

SONKO'S DEFENCE

Sonko accuses the PSV drivers of failure to comply with city by-laws and gross misconduct, including double parking, making U-turns at non-designated places, causing and noise pollution.

 

The governor says disorganised operations, dangerous driving and uncouth behaviour by PSV crews have been a bother to other road users. 

Residents predicted a rise in the cost of groceries and cereals, as the vendors who largely rely on PSVs to transport them will be forced to seek alternatives at a higher cost, which will be shifted to consumers.

The county officials and police blocked trucks that deliver groceries in Muthurwa from offloading them at the yard next to Muthurwa police post to spare the space for matatus. City vegetables vendors buy them in the Wakulima, Muthurwa and Gikomba markets and use PSVs to transport them to the estates. 

Nairobi has been ranked the ninth city in the world with the worst traffic and high carbon dioxide emission index, by Numbeo.

The ranking of the cities was arrived at by using a ‘Time Index’ that factors in the average time spent by a commuter on a single-way trip.

In Nairobi, you have to get stuck in traffic for an average of 65.20 minutes before you reach your destination.  

The traffic index report revealed that on average, Nairobi residents spend 62.44 minutes in traffic every day. This translates to a loss of about Sh2 billion every year, during traffic snarl-ups. 

“I know people are suffering, I am just requesting for patience from commuters. We are going to work on an amicable and permanent solution. In the morning, I spoke to the President. We are looking for the big buses from NYS to transport the physically challenged from their stages to the CBD,” Sonko said.

METROPOLITAN SOLUTION

Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria yesterday faulted Sonko and said the long-term solution to the transportation woes of the Nairobi metropolitan area lies in the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority.

Kuria, however, said Sonko remains bitterly opposed to Namata on grounds that it is a ploy to deny him revenue and usurp his powers.

"Sonko remains to be the biggest impediment to streamlining the greater Nairobi Metropolitan Area's transportation. His latest moves to adopt knee-jerk measures to decongest the city are just a smokescreen meant to divert attention from his opposition to Namata," Kuria said in a statement.

Kuria said Nairobi's transportation problems are complex, as they have built up over time. He said the problems require "sophiscated, comprehensive, well-thought-out and multi-disciplinary solutions". 

 "The last thing we need is reactionary and unilateral decisions on a matter that requires so many parties to work together. This is a team sport, not a round of squash. The Transport Committee continues to call upon governors Joseph Ole Lenku [Kajiado], Alfred Mutua [Machakos], Sonko, Ferdinand Waititu [Kiambu] and Mwangi Wairia [Murang'a], to come forward to work with Parliament so we can operationalise Namata and offer long-term solutions to the transportation problems in the greater Nairobi Metropolitan area." 

 

Last month, Kenya Railways announced plans to unveil a Nairobi commuter train service this month as part of efforts to ease traffic congestion on city roads.

Nairobi Railway City is co-funded by the government and the World Bank. The government announced that KR has already refurbished several trains and constructed 10 stations to facilitate the plan.

Dandora, Mwiki, Githurai, Kahawa, and Ruiru are among the new stations targeted for completion before the December launch.

The new stations shall complement the existing ones: Kibera, Imara Daima, Syokimau and Makadara.

But a similar plan launched by the government a few months ago, in which the NYS deployed buses in CBD to offer PSV services, achieved little success because the buses were few compared to the population.

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