The ticketing fraud at SGR stations has gone a notch higher, with unsuspecting passengers being given invalid tickets. As most Kenyans rush to book their ride to or from Mombasa this festive season, they should be careful not to be victims of the scam.
The most affected are the passengers getting connecting tickets. While issuing the tickets, some cashiers give one valid ticket, which they pin with another invalid one.
Early last month, Margaret and her team of eight became victims of the fraud, making them travel while standing on the couch pathway from Emali to Nairobi.
While booking for the tickets, the cashier who served them, Florence, explained that there were no direct tickets from Mombasa to Nairobi since some passengers had already booked half the journey.
She told them that she would book them from Mombasa to Emali on one ticket and from Emali to Nairobi on another ticket. "It meant we would have to move sitting positions in Emali and since we had to travel on that particular day, we agreed," Margaret said.
Florence booked them in but they would later learn one of each of the eight tickets she gave them was invalid. "She strategically pinned both tickets together with the right one on top," Margaret said.
On the travelling day, the team successfully checked into the train and had a smooth ride until they got to Emali, when they had to change seats.
All the seats on the second ticket were occupied. "A train attendant asked us for our tickets, and while trying to place us to the seat numbers on the second ticket, we realised they were occupied," Margaret said.
Thinking there were double allocations, their tickets and ID cards were picked for analysis. "We were stranded and all eyes were on us," she said. The situation would get worse after the attendants came back.
"It was shocking. We were told all the eight tickets from Emali to Nairobi were invalid. I could not understand how," said Margaret, who was travelling with her family.
Margaret says they were subjected to shame in the whole couch as attendants gathered, asking where they got the tickets from. "Someone from behind said they were from River Road; it was humiliating," she remembers.
One of the train attendants, Robert, told them there are cartels at the station who have been defrauding passengers. "He told us to accept we had been conned and just pay again on arrival in Nairobi, adding that 'this is Kenya, such things happen'," Margaret said.
To make them feel good, Robert said Florence would be arrested, which Margaret says she is sure never happened.
At the Syokimau terminus, a report was handed over to the security team, indicating that Margaret and her team were 'overriding passengers'.
With security on their side, the team was escorted to the booking office, where they were required to pay for the journey not paid for, with an additional fine of 10 per cent per ticket.
"When I questioned why we had to pay again after even giving the name of the cashier who gave us the invalid tickets, we were threatened to be locked up," Margaret said.
The cashier who served them had been given instructions to only be paid. "She told us all she needed from us is to pay for the journey not paid. She even went ahead to say we were lucky we were not dropped off at Emali, 'So just pay me then go back to Mombasa and follow up with whoever gave you the invalid tickets'," Margaret recalled.
With tired children on her side, Margaret chose to comply. "To save on time, Ii decided to pay the required amount, but I asked where I could file an official complaint," she says.
She was reluctantly directed to another desk, but the lady she found there could hear none of her complaints. "She told me I should have checked the tickets before leaving the station and there was nothing she could do. She asked me to go and check with Florence," Margaret said.
Frustrated, Margaret left the station, feeling conned and disappointed that the management showed no interest in following up her case.
She was not surprised when she read about the multimillion-shilling ticketing fraud at the Mombasa-Nairobi passenger train service reported last month.
According to reports, the fraud involves insiders skimming off a significant portion of revenue generated from every trip, with indications that Sh1 million is lost daily.
Discovered by Kenya Railways Corporation staff monitoring the Chinese operator, the fraud involves creating refunds for tickets already issued to passengers on board for all the trips and channelling the refunds elsewhere.
Last month, EACC detectives in Mombasa arrested three senior Chinese officials working for the China Road and Bridge Corporation.
The three, Li Gen, Li Xiaowu and Sun Xin, were said to have offered Inspector Andrew Warui and his team Sh500,000 as an inducement to influence an ongoing criminal investigation over SGR ticketing in their favour.
They were arraigned in a Mombasa court, where they were released on a Sh500,000 bond each with a Kenyan surety by chief magistrate Julius Nang’ea.