• December is synonymous with a pilgrimage to the beach to wind down after long year
• This year, corona is hanging over travel plans, calling for prudence in choice of means
The coronavirus has made it seem like 2020 will never end, but Christmas and New Year are finally around the corner, and many Kenyans are longing for a much-deserved break at the Coast.
The entry of Madaraka Express train after the completion of the SGR in 2017 brought direct competition to the bus sector, which initially enjoyed near monopoly during the season.
While other means of travel exist, the Star narrows down to SGR and buses due to their use by the majority of holidaymakers. Which would you rather go for?
Many passengers who prefer to use the SGR argue it is because of time and cost.
The express train from Nairobi to Mombasa and vice versa costs Sh1,000 for economy class and Sh3,000 for first class, and the journey is approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes.
Unlike in the bus sector, the fare is constant all year round.
While in first class, we have free snacks and drinks, food in economy is quite expensive, and carrying your own food is prohibited.
If you are departing from Nairobi to Mombasa, your journey starts at Railways bus station, where you pay Sh50-Sh80 to arrive at the Syokimau SGR Terminus.
On arrival at Miritini Terminus in Mombasa, standby shuttles charge from Sh150-Sh300, depending on your final destination in the city.
You have to board the shuttles or get a more expensive taxi since the terminal is away from the city and its neighbourhoods.
In the long run, you will end up spending about Sh1,500 in your entire journey.
With the security checks at both termini and inside the train, you are guaranteed safety, and rail transport is famed for having the least accidents.
However, while buses have been compelled to ensure social distancing, the SGR is currently operating at full capacity, calling for extra personal precautions.
On the other hand, bus fares vary during the holiday season.
Due to coronavirus restrictions requiring buses and shuttles to carry a limited number of passengers, the fare from Nairobi to Mombasa is Sh1,800. This is set to increase by up to Sh1,000 as the holidays near, going by precedent.
On the buses fitted with speed governors, a Nairobi-Mombasa journey will take you eight to nine hours.
It means the cost and time taken for the buses from the capital to the Coastal city is twice that of the SGR train.
Apart from double fares, statistics from the National Transport and Safety Authority show accidents are normally high during the holidays. Buses venture into panya routes and flout speed limits in the rush to cash in.
Abeid Said, director at Mash East Africa, one of the prominent long-distance bus companies, said despite the obvious speed and cost differences, passengers should prefer buses because of comfort.
“With the buses, you are comfortable in your own seat and don’t have to face each other like is the case with SGR,” he said.
“Once you board at point A, the bus drops you off at your final destination, unlike the SGR, which you have to connect with a matatu and later take another vehicle to your final destination.”
He said there is value for money as the buses offer water, biscuits and soda for free.