KOGI JAMES: No sound footing on transport issues yet

Emphasis has recently been on the rail, with the standard gauge railway in place

In Summary

• The Transport ministry has grappled with the idea of a Bus Rapid Transit public transport operation for Nairobi for far too long. 

• The auto industry finds itself largely in this disjointed informal sector, which is characterised by makeshift motor repair garages.

The lane along Thika Superhighway dedicated to BRT only
The lane along Thika Superhighway dedicated to BRT only

We are now officially in the era of space tourism, with the space flight conducted by Virgin Galactic and its founder Sir Richard Branson.

Tech is now going full circle and with the big dollars, the sky is no longer the limit.

In the meantime, Berlin City in Germany is offering people cash not to own a car.

Many countries in Europe and Scandinavia are advocating for bicycles as the preferred mode of private transport besides the public modes of bus, tram and train. The race to control carbon emissions and global warming is officially on.

Back here in Kenya, the story is rather different. While academic recognition of global warming is a subject of many a university thesis locally, the reality on the ground is different.

With a population of around 50 million Kenyans and a per capita GDP of below $2,000, our policymakers are yet to get on a sound footing on matters of transport.

Emphasis has recently been on the rail, with the standard gauge railway now in place and revival of the old meter-gauge railway lines to Nanyuki and Kisumu underway.

In addition, we have seen an upgrade of the road network countrywide and more recently the new Nairobi overpass toll road and the yet to be commissioned new Nairobi – Nakuru – Mau Summit toll road, both under PPP arrangements.

The Transport ministry has grappled with the idea of a Bus Rapid Transit public transport operation for Nairobi for far too long due to the chaotic nature of the public transport sector in this country.

Too many players are involved, owning from single units to large fleets of buses which are largely financed on loans from local banks.

These buses in turn provide economic support for thousands of Kenyans who would otherwise be destitute.

It is the failure of successive governments since independence to provide meaningful economic opportunities for their people that have led to a disjointed informal sector where millions of our people are to be found.

Currently, the country is headed for an election in one year, during which a change of administration is expected.

A lot of promises are being made to the electorate including the bottom-up approach to economic planning but over the years such promises have proven to be hot air.

The auto industry finds itself largely in this disjointed informal sector which is characterised by makeshift motor repair garages with little more than a toolbox and an air compressor to boot.

The workers in these garages happen to be highly skilled and it is only recently that President Uhuru Kenyatta made a push for the recognition of these prior learning experiences by the Kenya National Qualifications Authority.

Many of these mechanics perform mechanical, electrical, panel beating and painting tasks with no formal schooling beyond the lower primary level but have learnt their way up through apprenticeship with their more senior colleagues.

The technical curriculum offered in the formal technical institutions is under review to better prepare trainees for the real world of work with the right skills currently required.

This new curriculum is now being pioneered at the Thika, Nairobi and Kiambu Training Institutes with a view to offering a dual system of training where half of the time is spent in relevant industries and which industries expose them to the work requirements.

Motor vehicle ownership in Kenya has grown in leaps and bounds, mainly driven by the importation of affordable second-hand vehicles from Europe and the Far East.

It is easy to get bank loans in Kenya to own motor vehicles but the same amount of money will not be lent to you for other business ventures mainly because a motor vehicle is stand-alone loan security.

For this reason, over 3 million private and commercial vehicles are now available on our roads, leading to massive congestion in the major urban centres.

The advent of the 24-hour working economy has yet to allow workers to be on flexible work schedules whereby different working shifts would start at either 7, 9 or 10 am and end from 4, 6, and 7 pm.

This would greatly ease the traffic burden on our roads as well as encourage the use of public transport since most journeys would take under 45 minutes.

Currently, many commuters and motorists in Nairobi spend as much as four hours daily on our roads and this has many adverse effects including on mental health.

The government seems keen on introducing motor vehicle inspection for all vehicles that have attained the age of four years.

This is attested to the fact that the Traffic Act was recently revised to provide for these inspections of private motor vehicles as happens in advanced economies and where the issuance of your insurance cover is linked to this inspection.

While this could address various road safety concerns by eliminating unroadworthy vehicles and heavy polluters, there is still no clear formula on how the government intends to inspect 3 million vehicles while the current NTSA units are overstretched with commercial vehicle inspections.

The Kenya Motor Repairers Association has recommended that local private sector players be incorporated in this new inspection scheme, noting that these inspection centres will be employing high technology that is not subject to manipulation, with the resultant tests being uploaded onto the NTSA systems.

It is expected that the government bureaucrats will not single source for an overseas inspection provider, since this will kill the entrepreneurial efforts of the formal motor repair industry players at a time when we are looking for opportunities to industrialise such sectors for the needed job creation.

The commendable revival of motor vehicle assembly in Kenya should now move towards more local content manufacture of spare parts. 

This is in line with the Chinese model of economic transformation over the last 40 years when after massive investment in skills for their people, cottage industries were encouraged and funded by the state.

Global markets were then sought and found for these industries which later grew to become huge global concerns. In this way, China became the undisputed factory of the world.

As we look to strengthen manufacturing in the President's Big Four agenda, let us support the automotive sector which has massive opportunities for employing our youth and in this way contribute to the growth of our country’s GDP into a truly middle-income country.

This automotive sector is capable of motor vehicle inspection, manufacture of spare parts and eventually manufacture of the Kenyan Car as attested to by our very own Mobius.



Edited by Kiilu Damaris