• Commuting to work from Hachioji to the Tokyo central station 44km away, equivalent to the distance between Thika and Nairobi CBD, takes 50 minutes by train
• One lesson from Japan’s experience is that long-term planning for urban development and transport infrastructure must go hand-in-hand.
One of the classic indicators that a developing economy is growing at a rapid pace is the omnipresence of traffic jams.
The global pattern in such cases is much the same. While acquiring a new car is a personal decision, the process of expanding road networks to accommodate additional traffic is government’s. This process, starting with road design to the awarding of the contract takes a fairly long time.
As such, given Kenya’s economic growth, it is hardly surprising that traffic congestion is a serious issue, with economic losses estimated at more than Sh100 billion per year.
Improving urban transport will significantly shorten the time taken to move from one place to another, thereby contributing to a more productive society. This is why Japan and the World Bank organized the “Urban Development and Transport” Symposium on January 24 at the embassy.
Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen, Mombasa Governor Abdullswamad Nassir and other officials participated, reflecting their high interest.
Japan is renowned for its world-class public transport system that is safe, punctual and clean.
Commuting to work from a suburban city of Hachioji to the Tokyo central station 44km away, equivalent to the distance between Thika and Nairobi CBD, takes 50 minutes by train, departing every four minutes during rush hours.
This was achieved as a result of many decades of hard work as Japan’s geography, composed of islands, mostly mountainous and crisscrossed by rivers, is not the most ideal for developing transport infrastructure.
One lesson from Japan’s experience is that long-term planning for urban development and transport infrastructure must go hand-in-hand. A Japanese panelist explained that in Japan it takes about 10 years to plan transport infrastructure and about 15 years to construct it.
At the symposium, there was a suggestion that based on such plans, Nairobi should now proceed with implementation to promote transit-oriented development since there is an urgent need to reduce dependence on individual vehicles on roads by promoting public transport. Importance of improving commuter rail, bus transport and replacing roundabouts with intelligent traffic system to ease congestion were emphasized
In Japan, while transportation infrastructure was mainly the responsibility of the government in the earlier years, today — as a result of privatization of state-owned companies — expressway and rail networks are mainly operated and maintained by private companies.
This reduced the fiscal burden of the government, while promoting cost-efficiency as well as generating revenues from commercial activities along the railroad and road networks.
A Japanese expert from the Hanshin Expressway Co. Ltd explained the Build, Transfer and Operate model, in which the company builds the expressway, transfers ownership to the government, which is followed by the expressway being leased to the company. The expressway is maintained and operated by the company with revenues from toll collection.
Another expert from the Tokyu Corporation explained the company’s redevelopment of Futako-Tamagawa, a suburban town connected by its railroad line to Tokyo. In 2011-22, as a result of the redevelopment, the local population increased by about 13 per cent, land prices near the station increased by more than 60 per cent and number of train passengers increased by more than 30 per cent.
A presentation at the symposium explained the multiple benefits of the Ngong Road, of which the portion between Kenya National Library Services Headquarters and Junction Mall was constructed with the support and cooperation of Japan.
The new dual carriageway did not only ease congestion but also encouraged many others working in Nairobi to buy and live in cheaper houses farther away, thus contributing to the supply of affordable housing.
As Japan and Kenya mark 60 years of partnership in 2023, our cooperation in the transport sector has achieved significant results. I sincerely hope that Japanese experience and know-how will contribute to promoting urban public transport and easing traffic congestion in Kenya in the coming years.