FORGOTTEN INDUSTRY

PSV operators ask state for inclusion in Covid-19 subsidy plan

They say the transport protocols are costly in addition to running expenses, paying insurance and loans.

In Summary
  • Matatu owners said PSVs needed the government stimulus package extended to them such as free parking space provided by counties.
  • Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai said over 80 per cent of Kenyans use public transport.
Buses parked in Nairobi after the Ministry of Health failed to issue transport companies with travel guidelines. Many people remained stranded. Image: MERCY MUMO
Buses parked in Nairobi after the Ministry of Health failed to issue transport companies with travel guidelines. Many people remained stranded. Image: MERCY MUMO

Operators of public transport vehicles on Tuesday said the protocols for curbing the spread of Covid-19 could kick them out of business.

Speaking during a virtual meeting that sought to make the transport system more resilient during and after the pandemic, the operators said some of the protocols are costly.

Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai said over 80 per cent of Kenyans use public transport.

 
 

Kimutai said the revenue from the industry dipped by 70 per cent as a result of measures put to curb Covid-19.

"There is a problem of enforcement and lack of public awareness as there are some who still do not believe Covid-19 is real," Kimutai said.

He said public awareness needed to be scaled up as it previously played a key role in the fight against HIV and FGM.

The matatu owners boss said PSVs needed the government stimulus package extended to them such as free parking space provided by counties.

"We need fuel subsidised. The cost of running is much higher than the revenue," Kimutai said.

George Omondi from Long Distance Bus Owners of Kenya said fuel and insurance costs were hitting them hard. Omondi said they need to be cushioned.

 

"We need to have buses classified into luxurious, standard and normal to help us come up with clear rules," he said.

 

Omondi said they parked their buses for over three months yet they continued to pay for insurance.

The webinar was hosted by Council of Governors led by Urban Development and Infrastructure committee chairman Lee Kinyanjui.

Kinyanjui said the sector was a critical pillar in the country. "The sector if well managed can be a source of wealth. However, it can be a weak link in the fight against Covid-19," the Nakuru governor said.

He said the sector just like others needed to be bailed out.

"The transport sector was not bailed out yet it has serious challenges," he said, adding that the enforcement of new protocols though not negotiable had come at a cost.

He said infrastructure such as bus stop and vehicles was not set with the recommended one-meter distance in mind.

"People are sometimes tempted to board the matatus whenever there are empty seats," he said.

He said if the sector does not meet the running cost, it could easily compromise on safety.

Paying fare in cash was brought up during the meeting.

Kinyanjui said counties have a very tight budget as revenue from transport and markets had dwindled as a result of the pandemic.

He said counties cannot intervene to salvage the transport sector.

Kinyanjui said there was a need for a deeper conversation on boda boda transport.

"Boda bodas may sometimes be political as they influence election of the next governor, senator or even MP," he said.

The governor said stigma against long-distance truck drivers was alarming.

In March, the government issued directives compelling matatus to drastically reduce the number of passengers to avoid the spread of the coronavirus through congestion.

To adhere to the social distancing directive, the 14-seater matatus were directed to carry eight passengers, those with a 25-seater capacity to reduce to 15 passengers while those above a 30-seater capacity were directed to maintain a capacity of 60 per cent per trip.

The matatus were to ensure passengers washed their hands or sanitised before boarding any vehicle. They were also to ensure the PSVs are fumigated after every trip.

Transport CS James Macharia has however issued new guidelines.

The CS said a 14-seater would now carry 10 passengers, up from eight.

A 33-seater is allowed 18 passengers including the driver and crew.

For boda bodas, only one pillion passenger shall be carried.

Tuk tuks are allowed to carry one passenger at any time but the CS said the Health ministry should consider reviewing the directive to allow tuk tuks to carry two passengers.

Macharia said a five-seater car will now be allowed a maximum of three passengers and a seven-seater five.

Edited by Henry Makori