The government and authorities can be given credit for realising that we do have a problem here whether it is to 'restore sanity'- was it there in the first place or to reduce congestion. I'm no urban planning genius but I ask the question will it work? They've tried other methods before like doubling parking fees a few years back and we still have the same issues. Another effort which in my opinion failed in it's set objectives is the 'Michuki rules' which were introduced in 2004 and have ended up being watered down, especially in 2007 as a campaign gimick. Now let me use my ignorance to poke holes in that initiative.
When bwana Michuki set out to whip the matatu boys into shape we were all applauding. We'd finally get good, clean and efficient public transportation. Gone would be the days of miraa chewing, scruffy looking youths hanging on the doors of vehicles blasting music at deafening volumes while terrorizing the other road users. That would be replaced with nice polite service with clean uniforms and name tags... so much for that! Lasted a few months and if there's one thing that was achieved then it was ridiculous queues at the Motor Vehicle department as the matatu crews struggled to comply.
Once again in my humble opinion, the most important regulation was that of speed governors, seat belts in my opinion have no place in buses which are operating in the CBD. I believe that these regulations led to the 'matatu-ization' of public transport in Nairobi at least. Let me take you back a few years to when KBS was Kenya Bus Services not the glorified matatus of today. Back then they served all major routes in the city and you'd be assured of getting to where you wanted to go in good time as they were regular. Another thing is that they had standing passengers- a minor inconvenience if you were going a short distance but woe unto you if you had to stand all the way from Nairobi to Ngong like it so often happened. The service was affordable and did the job well enough but that one company was clearly not able to handle all the passengers and they got overloaded most of the times. Oh and standing passengers means more capacity per vehicle hence less traffic on the road but I think only proper buses should be allowed to carry standing passengers not Matatus.
That was then fast forward to now. Standing at the Kencom stage you realise that these buses be it City Hoppa, Shuttle, KBS, Double M etc are behaving like big matatus, soliciting for passengers as they cause a long traffic hold-up along Moi Avenue. What's more they don't even serve all the city routes just the short ones that have been deemed profitable to them. There's no standardization or timetable so that you can tell when the next bus is coming. In my opinion all this sprung up from the Michuki rules which in essence were good but they were never reviewed so as to make the system more effective and efficient to the 'common mwananchi' (that famous cliche)
So looking at it critically have the Michuki rules really worked as well as we'd expected. I'd say no! it's made public transport more expensive and less convenient for many though progress may have been made in the area of comfort. However I believe that change is inevitable and however good a policy may look at first it may need to be tweaked later.
Clearly our policy makers have their work cut out for them! I'm wondering if this isn't one of the reasons we have a Nairobi Metropolitan ministry. Nairobi residents need a good transport SERVICE. Emphasis on service as right now it's pretty much a dog eat dog world of profiteering matatu operators whereas what is needed is (cliche alert) public private partnerships that will deliver value to the customers at minimum cost. May I say that the local authorities should also subsidize the system if they are to justify milking more money from us- no taxation without service delivery! Therefore I laud the latest effort of having Matatus run by Saccos and companies- that would be a good way to pool resources so that they can acquire high capacity vehicles. I think we may have to move back to move forward by re-introducing the buses that could carry up to 90 passengers. That way we'd reduce the number of vehicles by a factor of at least 6 considering 14 seaters.
That's just one suggestion I'm sure that with greater consultations better solutions to our problems can be found. We are already wasting too many man hours in traffic. The new highways may help but only if we use them effectively and efficiently!
Another aspect of our transport system which I believe hasn't been used to the maximum is bicycles. A large portion of the City is pretty much flat i.e Eastlands and building cyclist lanes on those roads will provide a cheaper and more environmentally friendly means of transport.
Just a few thoughts but I believe that if we put our heads together we can come up with lasting solutions. Additions, subtractions and criticisms are welcome