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Kenya Bus Services Company Went Bust
Due the Onslaught of the Matatu Industry

Coastweek -- We will this week take a final look at the changes in personal transport that have occurred over the last few decades, writes Teti Kamugunda.

For this last article, we will look at the changes in mass transit systems in the cities.

In the early days post-independence, there were structured “mass” transport systems in and between most of the major urban areas.

The main provider of inter-city transport was a company called the Overseas Transport Company or those who wanted a simple way of saying it used the abbreviation OTC.

The provider was an overseas subsidiary of a company based in the mother country of England.

It was structured to work in a similar manner as what is these days called the National Bus Company.

It provided linked transport between cities and one would be able to leave Mombasa and arrive in Nairobi to catch the next bus that would take them to for example, Nakuru or Kisumu.

They had a very integrated time table that allowed one to plan their journey as well as purchase all the tickets required for the intermediate journeys at the terminus from which they were travelling.

For the in between towns, one had to book early so that the transport company could optimise the use of their vehicles.

In the urban areas, the main service provider was the Kenya Bus Service or KBS.

The name exists to this day but the look and feel of the service of today is very different from the organised service that existed in those early days.

In the early days, the service provider had specific routes that were agreed upon with the urban authorities.

These were designed to connect key facilities, major service providers, leisure areas and so forth with major residential centres.

They were based on a spoke and wheel system whereby most routes ended up in a terminus in the city centre and had key stops at the extremes of the urban spread.

The stops at the extremes were also joined by circular services that allowed people in adjacent areas in the extremities of the city to make short trips instead of having to come to the city centre and then almost head back out in the same direction.

The next key feature of this service was that each route had a published time table that was available at each bus stop and also on each bus that plied the route.

It was also available at the booking office and one was able to get one and keep it for their own reference.

The companies had inspectors whose job was to ensure that the service that was being provided met the standards that the company had set.

This included that the buses were keeping to the timetable, the passengers were paying for the right sectors of their journey and also that drivers were driving properly with due care to courtesy and safety.

The buses were clean and well maintained.

In support, the city also ensured that the bus stops and termini were well maintained and lit and they also ensured that only the licensed operators used the facilities.

Over the last few decades and with the introduction of matatus, the quality and reliability of mass transit system has deteriorated and instead is a leading cause of accidents as well as congestion.

The old Kenya Bus Services Company went bust because of the onslaught of the matatu industry but still had the license for the routes in the cities.

They changed from their efficient self to a franchising operation.

The franchisees have not kept the standards of the old KBS and the vehicles are unkempt, the drivers have adopted the matatu culture on how they drive and operate and there is no time keeping.

Mass transit systems have gone from good to bad and it is necessary for the county governments to take charge again and streamline the sector.

Residents of the major urban areas require dignified transport and it behoves on the county government to restore the dignity.

There are many well developed systems that can be looked at which have seen cities convert from the mayhem of informal sector transport like matatus or even the SACCO system that we have to mass transit systems that look and feel more similar to what we see in other more developed metropolis’.

Lagos is an example where ruthless design and implementation made the change.

As Kachumbari says, all we need is proper application to create the change we need in the mass transit systems.



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  This year’s rally will be
flagged off at Sarova
Whitesands on November
23rd and finish at the same
venue on December 1st.


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