• An organised public transport ensures the safety of the users, less congestion, less pollution and supports quality service and dignified work for its workers.
• The investors have access to government financing and incentives, foreign investments and leverage on technology to improve efficiency and profits.
A few weeks ago, debate ensued between Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja.
The Deputy President threatened to marshal his supporters to impeach the Nairobi governor over his proposal to decongest the CBD by having PSV operators terminate their journeys outside the CBD. DP Gachagua opposed the proposal, insisting that matatu operators be allowed access to the CBD. He argued that banning them from the CBD would negatively affect their business and lead to losses.
The debate failed to appreciate the role of an organised public transportation system in building a vibrant economy. The issue should not be whether matatus access the CBD or not, but how to improve efficiency in the sector to serve the citizens better.
The chaotic nature of our public transportation system benefits a few individuals to the detriment of many who depend on it. According to ITDP, 41 per cent of Nairobians use matatus for their mobility needs and a further 40 per cent walk or cycle, yet our transportation system has failed to address their needs.
An organised public transportation system demands that the needs of the users be central in planning, designing and provision of transportation services. The government plays the role of advocating provision of services that are available, safe, affordable, accessible, inclusive, non-discriminatory and environmentally sustainable for the end user. This is regarded as costly and without guaranteed profits, making our government abdicate this responsibility leaving it to private entities that focus on profits at the expense of quality service.
The result is high number of traffic accidents, congestion, pollution and loss of working hours. The human cost attributed to this is so high than the cost of investing in quality organised public transportation.
On the other hand, an organised public transport ensures the safety of the users, less congestion, less pollution and supports quality service and dignified work for its workers. The investors have access to government financing and incentives, foreign investments and leverage on technology to improve efficiency and profits. The government is able to focus on regulation, and infrastructure development.
To establish an organised public transportation system, first, the Nairobi and the national governments should implement cross-city routes as opposed to the current model where matatus terminate their journeys in the CBD.
A cross-city route is a public transport route that links one suburb or satellite estate of a city or town with another, usually relatively distant suburb or satellite estate. This allows matatus to pick passengers from one residential area, pass through the CBD — not necessarily — and drop them in another estate on the other side of the city.
This will eliminate the need for matatus to park and wait to pick passengers within the CBD, thus reducing congestion. It will reduce the cost and time spent by passengers to connect from one matatu to the next to reach their destination.
Second, all PSV Saccos/companies should undergo fresh vetting and weed out those that do not meet the threshold to operate. The threshold should be a central management and ownership of vehicles, employment of workers on permanent basis, safety, quality service to passengers, adoption of technology and a clear separation of boards and management. This is likely to be resisted but political goodwill will be needed to see the changes come to light. The sector is much important to be left to the whims of a few individuals.
Third, the county government should implement a centralised ticketing system that allows passengers to buy a ticket and use the same to board any matatu. This means matatus will be paid by the county government for every passenger ferried. This will eliminate cash in the sector, reduce bribery and corruption, and do away with the rush by matatus to make more trips for more revenue. These demand clean and spacious buses that are well designed to cater for the needs of everyone.
Finally, the government should prioritise investment in the public transport sector rather than populist statements. The government has invested heavily in good road infrastructure, including airports, and is always bailing out the loss making Kenya Airways.
It is time to have a publicly funded and managed public bus service to provide organised and quality public transport to the majority of citizens. This will raise the profile of the city and make it more competitive for direct foreign investment.
Charles Aholi is the executive director, National Public Transport Alliance and a member of the Socially Just Public Transport – Working Group