Chaos sparked by ban on matatus a sign of future transport crisis

A traffic jam along Kenyatta Avenue,Nairobi on 03/12/18 after the ban of Matatus and Buses in Nairobi Central Business District (NCBD) [Photo: Boniface Okendo,Standard]

The City of Nairobi is said to experience some of the worst traffic snarl ups in the world.

Navigating through the city takes hours, regardless of the means used- public or private. The result is perennial delays in public and personal schedules, time wastage in transit, human stress and occasional accidents as road users try to force their way ahead of others.

The situation is expected to get worse with the population of Nairobi set to double in the next few years.

According to the African Development Bank, by the year 2050 more than 70 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities. Kenya's population is expected to hit 100 million people by the year 2030. Nairobi therefore might see its population increase to more than 10 million people.

Under the current urban and mobility planning, the additional millions of new Nairobi residents will have to forget using motorised transport. They will not be able to drive an inch from their homes because of heavy traffic.

Unbearable levels

This is a very serious issue, which if not planned for now, will lead to a reduction in the quality of life in the city. In addition, the cost of living will certainly rise to unbearable levels.

Being a regional hub, what affects Nairobi will no doubt affect the neighbouring countries as well. Many of the largest regional and multinational organisations are all based in Nairobi. The United Nations has the second largest office outside New York in Nairobi.

Yet when Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko banned public transport vehicles from accessing the city's Central Business District early this week, there was an outcry. Residents demanded that the governor rescinds this decision.

This was not the first time such an attempt was being made. During Governor Evans KIdero's tenure, the county toyed with a similar plan but shelved it after realising that it would not work.

Nairobi is after all, the financial and political capital of Kenya. Any disruption to the transport system does not affect the Nairobians alone.

One wonders whether it was wise to bar public transport vehicles from the city centre instead of reducing access for private vehicles.

Cities in other parts of the world levy heavy penalty fees on private vehicles that access the city center. If anything, vehicles that need unfettered access to the city are PSVs-they ferry more people at a go than private ones.

Sustainable mobility plans for the city can only be achieved if the county government together with the national government prioritise a master plan that shall increase the spacing of the roads. As it is, the city is too congested.

Under President Mwai Kibaki, the Nairobi Metropolis' master plan increased the number of kilometres of tarmacked roads. But despite all the by-passes and additional roads, the congestion in the city is still suffocating.

Separate roles

A good solution to reduce this congestion is to separate the commercial role of the city from the administrative role.

In other countries, including our neighbour, Tanzania, the capital city and the administrative capital are different. While Dar es Salaam is the commercial capital, Dodoma is the administrative capital.

This model can help decongest the Nairobi.

At one time, Isiolo town was proposed to become Kenya’s future administrative capital because of its geographical centrality.

A sizeable number of people who travel to Nairobi do so in search of government services  that, years after devolution, are still centralised.

Ideally, these services should be devolved, but considering the sensitivities the government attaches to them (which I find not insensible), it might take a long time before they moved from the city.

Therefore, the management of the mobility challenges can be tackled through reducing the demand for motorised transport by reducing the number of people coming into the city or by planning a different town all together to become Kenya’s administrative capital.

There are some countries where Government ministries are headquartered in different towns to avoid concentrating basic services in one city. Many be its is time we tried this for a change.

This way, we might not need the kind of directives Governors Sonko issued early this week that caused so much chaos.

Mr Guleid is the executive director of the Frontier Counties Development Council.