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Ink Had Barely Dried On Governor’s Pronouncement
When He Had To Rescind His Decision On Matatus 

Coastweek -- With the ending of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi “Cirry” County, one had hoped that transport would return to normal and that we would have the congestion we are used to that is caused as a result of the lack of planning for public transport, writes TETI KAMUGUNDA.

Little did we anticipate at that time that the Governor of County 047 would dare try what his predecessor and many others have tried and failed.

He announced and effected the banning of matatus from operating in the city centre starting Monday the third of December.

It lasted for exactly twenty four hours.

The ink had barely dried on the pronouncement when he had to rescind his decision.

There have been at least six previous attempts by the leadership of both the County government as well as the Ministry responsible for transport to “tame” the matatus.

All the attempts seemed to be simply a show of who’s got the biggest “cogliones” - the county governor or the leadership of the matatu industry in Nairobi.

Three attempts happened during Governor Kidero’s time and so far the same number of attempts have been made on Governor Sonko’s reign.

In the latest attempt, Governor Sonko stipulated that matatus should drop passengers in areas allocated outside of the city centre that would act as termini for the different routes.

He offered nothing for the commuters who would then have to trek into the city centre to work or across it in order to get to the next terminus that would take them out to their destination.

The trek to the heart of the city from the termini was average of one to one and half kilometres.

This walk between termini presented some serious problems that were extremely obvious and should have been thought through before the ban was instituted.

Imagine a sick old person living in Ruiru and who was going for treatment at the Kenyatta national referral hospital.

He would be dropped on one side of the city centre and would then have to walk for three kilometres to catch the next transport to take him to the hospital.

In his condition this would be an impossible trek and I would not have been surprised if such a person would have arrived at the hospital ready to go to the Intensive Care Unit instead of the Out Patient unit.

The one common reason that all the attempts have failed is that nothing concrete has been offered in return.

All the possible solutions were either desktop solutions or simply imagined outcomes.

They had also not been socialised to see whether there would be support, contrary views or improvement suggestions.

In the latest case there was obviously no consultation, no publication or even suitable warning.

The scenes that we were to see in the city were pathetic.

Roads were taken over by pedestrians walking into the central business district.

Small cars and other vehicles that were then trying to make their way into the city were slowed to a crawl as they tried to negotiate for space with irate people walking the streets.

The sidewalks and non-motorised transport infrastructure was all full of pedestrians.

The grassed areas were being trampled on as people tried to find space to walk.

The beautification efforts that had been put into place for the Blue Economy conference were put to nought.

Pedestrian bridges were filled to capacity with hardly any room to move and there were serious concerns that they would collapse in the event that a stampede was occasioned by any simple unusual event.

A lot of  people who would normally have taken matatus to town drove into the city instead thus increasing the number of vehicles on the road and creating even worse congestion.

At least matatus can use alternative panya routes and in a way decongest the major roads but most other drivers who came out this time did not have the luxury of the route knowledge that the matatu drivers have.

We have on previous occasions suggested some simple actions that the County Government together with the National Government could take to decongest the city centre without inconveniencing wananchi.

I will reiterate the proposals.

First, the County Government  together with leadership of the matatu business should identify and prepare suitable spaces at the outward ends of the various routes where matatus and other public transport means can be held.

This will become their resting area whilst on duty and when they are not plying the streets.

These would be the collection area of all matatus when they are not in use.

The second thing is to create or recreate the bus stops on al routes.

These exist and only need sprucing up and sign posting.

They will also need some kind of shelter.

They should also have signs saying which route numbers will call at the bus stop.

Having done these relatively inexpensive actions, the matatu owners, SACCOS and other bodies should then be engaged and told the rules of operation.

First is that they will not be allowed to stop anywhere other than at the bus stops to pick up passengers.

Nairobians should also be told loudly that matatus will not be allowed to stop willy nilly to pick up passengers and that the Nairobians should learn to walk to the nearest bus stops and wait for the appropriate matatus.

All matatus should have their route number painted prominently on the front back and kerbside so that potential passengers can quickly select which vehicle to enter.

The silly practice of the conductor holding a piece of paper to show which route they will be taking should be stopped as this is partially what causes congestion by matatus changing from one route to another depending on what the demand is at the time they come to the bus stop.

Matatus will not be expected to stay at a bus stop for more than two minutes.

If there are no passengers to pick they will simply move on to the next stop and so on.

They will not be allowed to wait for passengers in the City centre.

They will pick and move on and if there is no one to pick they will simple turn and continue with the outward journey back to the terminus.

The matatu organisations duty will now be to effectively schedule the movement of matatus so that they match the demand during the various periods of the day from low demand to peak demands.

Punitive measures should also be put in with both plain clothes and uniformed enforcement agents spread across the city and also moving from place to place so that the matatus begin to operate correctly everywhere as they will not know when they can be apprehended.

The simple actions of the enforcement agencies will be to impound any matatus which try and pick up passengers away from the bus stop or those which stop at the bus stop for longer than two minutes.

There should be no negotiation on the road.

Simply impound and keep off the road for two days.

Passengers who board matatus away from where they should be locked up for twenty four hours as should the driver of the matatu.

The other passengers who were in the matatu should simply be allowed to disembark, get their money refunded (with a premium chargeable to the matatu operator)  and be allowed to find another matatu to get to their destination.

These simple actions which do not cost very much money but can also be actioned speedily and simply should lead to the first phase of decongestion in our city centre.

It will bring order to the roads by getting matatus to operate predictably.

The same rules can also be applied to private vehicles so that they do not pick people up willy nilly and have to get their passengers to wait at a bus stop.

They should also not be allowed to wait on the side of the road for passengers or to kill time.

Once this is done and embedded, the city should be ready for the next evolution of transport improvement.

We will discuss this next week.

As Kachumbari says, haba na haba hujaza kibaba!

 

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