Address transport reforms holistically

For certain, the fast growth of Kenya’s urban population has not been accompanied by a commensurate increase in urban infrastructure and service delivery.

The absence of a fully functional performing public transport infrastructure has led to overcrowding and poor delivery in major urban areas.

For want of viable alternatives for individuals, it has also led to a boom in the number of privately owned vehicles, which in turn has resulted in congestion at critical intersections within our cities, particularly Nairobi.

According to the Government, the time wasted in traffic jams represents a cost to the economy of Sh58 million a day in lost productivity, which equates to a whopping Sh17 billion a year.

If this is not enough, just throw in the wasted fuel as frustrated travellers sit in traffic jams in the morning and evening hours, every working day.

Tonight, as you are patiently waiting just cast your eyes around to the car in front, behind and either side of you and count the number of unoccupied seats.

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Most cars have a driver/owner and four empty seats. If this is not the height of inefficiencies then what is?

Following the liberalisation of the economy in the 1990s, used car imports from Japan, Middle East and UK have become highly popular with the majority owing to their affordability, compared to locally assembled units or new imports.

Foreign investment

Today, the Government is seeking to reverse this trend through stricter importation rules for used vehicles – the most recent being regulations to reduce the age limit from 8 to 5 years for vehicles with engine capacities of 1500cc and below.

Official data shows that Kenya imports an average of 6,700 and 900 used and new vehicles respectively every month, with the average locally assembled units standing at about 400 only.

Assemblers though, mostly produce commercial vehicles, such as buses and pick-ups, with their range of passenger cars being quite limited.

Globally, the automotive industry has been a pillar of industrialisation for many economies and a key driver of macroeconomic growth and technological advancement.

The industry has consistently contributed directly and indirectly to GDP, foreign investment, employment and innovation in developed countries such as Germany, United States, Japan, Italy and several other emerging economies such as South Africa.

In Kenya, the automotive industry has a potential to significantly contribute to the manufacturing sector, and the Government targets to increase this sector’s share of GDP from the current 9.2 per cent to 15 per cent by 2022.

The underlying intention of the proposed Government amendment is commendable, encouraging local assembly, reducing the number of old vehicles bellowing-out black smoke on our roads today and reducing traffic congestion.

However, to exclude the bottom end of the driver/owner pyramid from access to vehicles by increasing prices is one thing, but in doing so it falls upon government to also provide a viable alternative for the transportation needs of this segment.

Vehicle traffic

To achieve meaningful reforms in the transport sector, we need to start by reforming the public transport system as a priority.

An efficient public transport sector will see a meaningful reduction in demand for used vehicles, and also gains in the economy through reduction in lost man hours attributable to traffic jams, and reduced budget for infrastructure development to accommodate the increasing vehicle traffic.

More roads is certainly not the answer!

The proposed Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project remains one of the most viable ways to address Kenya’s myriad transport challenges.

The Government needs to work closely with stakeholders to get local solutions for the MRT project. In this respect, we can borrow a leaf from South Africa, which faced a similar problem in implementing its Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) project.

The designation of Johannesburg as one of the hosts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa provided the impetus to improve public transport in the city by launching the first full BRT system in Africa.

The system, called Rea Vaya, was designed by the city administration to be both functional and appealing, with prepaid boarding smart cards, easy walk-on walk-off buses, aesthetically-pleasing, weather-protected stations and bus stops and designated road lanes restricted for just these vehicles.

A central challenge in Rea Vaya’s development was understandable resistance from owners of informal minibuses and taxi drivers, but by including these groups through an industry steering committee, the city encouraged them to become stakeholders, helping to find solutions together with the city.

Rea Vaya was designed with a number of development objectives in mind, including enhanced economic growth, poverty alleviation, sustainable development and good governance.

Coming back home, the design and implementation of transport policies should depend on integrated institutions, enhanced governance frameworks, short- and long-term planning taking into account the business case for sustainable transport and development.

There has to be a concerted simultaneous process to improve drastically the formal public transport system to provide a viable alternative. If we allow the current trend to continue, congestion, air pollution, traffic fatalities and frustrated travellers will continue to rise.

Mr Dodd is Executive Director, NIC bank

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