By Cyrus Ombati
NAIROBI; KENYA: Hundreds of commuters in Nairobi and its environs were stranded with some spending nights in the cold of the streets of the town following paralysed public transport.
The strike called by matatu operators to protest stern new traffic rules started on Thursday and continued on Friday with most vehicles staying off the road.
With the transport paralysed there was a second challenge for motorists with a traffic snarl up along most streets and highways.
Police say there have been reports of goons attacking passengers and vehicles in parts of Nairobi.
For instance, in Kitengela a group of thugs attacked and robbed passengers who were in a matatu.
In Bahati estate in Nairobi, police said goons believed to be touts carjacked a matatu and robbed passengers before dumping them in Mukuru slums.
Major mini-buses like Citi Hoppa, Kenya Bus, Double M and Compliant, which usually operate on select routes have boycotted service in fear of being attacked.
Most routes in Nairobi are without matatus and police have been deployed to enhance security on those with the vehicles.
Commuters were forced to trek to their destinations. Nairobi Area police boss Moses Ombati said they witnessed commuters stay at various matatu termini up to midnight on Thursday waiting for means going to their homes and that they arrested dozens of muggers who attacked pedestrians.
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Boda-boda operators have taken advantage of the strike to cash in on the suffering of commuters, charging high fares and precariously carrying up to three passengers.
Social media campaign
And in support of the commuters, Kenyans on social media started a campaign to call on private motorists to carry pedestrians to their destinations.
They used twitter to mobilize other motorists to carry any passengers as a show of solidarity with the law.
Police used tear gas canisters to disperse to disperse a group of the operators on various who had blocked the roads.
The law comes into effect tomorrow.
The operators claimed that the new stringent measures would give the police a leeway to extort money from them and run them out of business.
They vowed to force a review of the laws by collecting more than a million signatures
The law, they say, is too stringent with stiff fines, which they cannot afford to pay.
Police said at least one matatu was burnt in Zimmerman estate after it allegedly tried to pick up passengers to the city.
Traffic Commandant Benson Kibue said apart from traffic personnel, all other officers will be in handy to enforce the law.
“We are training all officers on these laws and enforcement will be done by any police officer. We urge Kenyans to support us in dealing with these criminals,” he said.
The law requires and drivers of PSVs to undergo physical and health fitness examination after every three years respectively.
The Traffic (Amendment) Act criminalises drunk driving as it proposes a stiffer penalty for those found guilty of the offence and anyone convicted of the offence will be fined Sh500, 000, a 10-year jail term or both.
The Act comes into effect as the country is still experiencing increasing road accidents, which are largely blamed on reckless driving.
Statistics from the Traffic department indicate at least 2,800 people have died on the roads since January this year.
“A person who, when driving or attempting to drive, or when in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle, commits an offence and shall be liable, upon conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to a fine not exceeding Sh500, 000, or both,” the law says.
Motorcycle riders will also be required to wear helmets and jackets and provide the same to their passengers.
The law also demands the riders to possess driving licences and contravention of the law will see owners fined Sh10,000 or jailed for a year or both.
Driving without a licence attracts a tougher penalty as offenders will be jailed for 10 years or fined Sh500,000 or both.
Police say the harsh law is expected to reduce road accidents, which increase steadily during the festive season.