As workers rush to beat the deadline in the construction of a railway station in the dusty neighbourhood of Mwiki, Nairobi, graders roar across the city in Umoja estate as efforts to create a Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) lane on Outer Ring Road hit high gear.
A similar pattern repeats itself behind Kenyatta National Hospital where a loop road is being constructed to join Mbagathi Way and in the far south at Karen where Lang’ata road is being expanded all the way to Ngong Road.
Across Nairobi, works worth billions of shillings are going on as the government steps up its efforts to create a modern metropolis with an integrated transport system. When complete, it is estimated that the $300 million World Bank-funded Nairobi Urban Transport Improvement project will transform the city.
Recent data on the actual cost of Nairobi’s gridlocks to the country’s economy is difficult to come by and varying estimates have been made in the past.
In 2011, IBM ranked Nairobi as having the fourth most painful traffic experience in the world, right behind Beijing and Johannesburg. The study that also monetised the man-hours lost on Nairobi’s traffic jams said the Kenyan economy loses Sh50 million daily.
Now at the heart of this new ambitious plan supported by six different international agencies is the creation of a commuter railway city related with a modern integrated transport system comprising Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), expanded highways, link roads and a loop road system.
“All levels of government are heavily involved and all the construction you are seeing is aimed at making it easier for goods and services to flow across the city,” says Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko.
Already, five new railway stations are being constructed in Ruiru, Kikuyu, Mwiki, Kahawa, and Dandora that have parking bays and fully equipped police stations. The five are the first batch of 13 stations set for reconstruction before another 19 are built from scratch.
The plan is to move at least 132,000 passengers daily on the railway line, up from the current 11,000. In March last year, the World Bank approved Kenya Railway’s (KR) Nairobi Commuter Rail(NCR) master procurement plan, which is intended to “guide the process of establishing mass rail transport with intermodal facilities in Nairobi metropolitan region.”
It is hoped that NCR will attract a substantial portion of the 1.5 million who travel into the CBD every day. This includes the middle class who have shunned the railway services due to overcrowding, poor facilities and lack of enough trips.
To kick-start this, Kenya Railways this week added six additional trips in its schedule. Commuters from Embakasi Village to Nairobi’s CBD will now have an additional morning train at 9.10am to complement the 7.05am one.
In addition to the usual 6pm train from the CBD to Embakasi Village, commuters on that route now have a 3pm train in the new schedule. Likewise, residents of Kahawa have two additional trains in the morning – at 8.40am and the other at 10.40am.
A rail connection to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) is also in the works. Kenya Railways has already floated an international tender for the civil works, infrastructure and trains that will help it achieve its transformation goals.
“As part of the Nairobi Commuter Rail (NCR) revitalisation efforts, we will be purchasing 11 Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) this year. DMUs are a key part of the NCR revitalisation masterplan and will be important in helping us achieve our goal of moving 8M commuter passengers by 2022,” Kenya Railways said in a tweet on Thursday.
City residents are expected to start seeing the fruits of this ambitious plan when 64 buses arrive from South Africa at the end of the month to kick start the BRT project. Kenya intends to borrow heavily from Colombia’s bus rapid transit model in Bogota.
In Bogota’s TransMilenio system, commuters swipe their smart cards loaded with cash to gain entry into the bus stations and wait for buses inside the stations. The BRT project will have five interconnected lines built on already existing roads that will be named after Kenya’s big five animals; Ndovu (Elephant), Simba (Lion), Chui (Leopard), Kifaru (Rhino) and Nyati (Buffalo).
Ndovu line will serve commuters from Kangemi to Imara Daima. Simba Line will reign commuters from the Bomas Interchange near the Bomas of Kenya to Ruiru town, passing through the city.
Chui Line commuters will ride one swift bus from Njiru area in Embakasi to Jamhuri Showground.
Kifaru Line will ferry commuters from Eastlands. The line will run from Mama Lucy Hospital to T-Mall via the CBD. Nyati Line, the shortest of the five, will connect Balozi Estate near GSU headquarters to Imara Daima using Outer Ring Road.
The decision to build the BRT on already existing roads instead of coming up with completely new roads is informed by advice from JICA, which said it would be difficult to get land for new roads and this will delay the project.
“Considering the physical road condition in Nairobi City, it is difficult to meet maximum condition for BRT such as ensuring dedicated BRT lane and overpass lane as well as bus stop space due to current land availability,” said JICA in an advisory to the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (NAMATA).
A dry run using National Youth Service (NYS) buses in April last year proved a success, according to the Ministry of Transport, which wanted to test the viability of government getting involved in mass transport.
The plan to import buses from South Africa has however not gone down well with local manufacturers who have been lobbying the government to reverse its decision. On Tuesday, manufacturers met President Uhuru Kenyatta in Mombasa over the issue but it is said the government was firm about its decision, citing poor workmanship by local manufacturers.
“President Uhuru Kenyatta has urged local motor vehicle assemblers to innovate ways of producing quality vehicles that are affordable for Kenyans,” said a communique from State House which avoided talking about the matter.
“We have to think outside the box. I encourage you to come up with real solutions in motor vehicle industry that will benefit Kenyans,” the president told manufacturers.
The buses, which arrive in three weeks will have flat floors without stairs wide enough for two to three people to pass at a go.
They will also have the provision of standing passengers although it is not clear whether the government will allow this since standing is prohibited in Kenya’s public transport sector.
The Sunday Standard understands that people living along Thika Superhighway will be the first to benefit from the BRT service once the buses land in Nairobi. NAMATA has placed priority on the route also christened Simba Line or Line Two.
In total, the BRT project will cost Sh9.6 billion and it will take three years for the required infrastructure to be put in place. The government has already secured Sh5 billion through a grant from the European Union for the project.
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