Hard times for operators as curfew drives out public service vehicles

Modern Coast Buses at their Mombasa offices.[Collins Oduor and file Standard]

Public transport operators are beginning to feel the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The 7pm to 5am curfew enforced by the government as well as the self-distancing rule in its fight against Covid-19 are taking a toll on the sector.

Spot checks by The Standard around bus stations established the number of passenger seats have been reduced as per public health safety precautions.

Bus operators plying the Kisumu-Nairobi route have been forced to adjust timelines and can only make one trip a day to beat the curfew.

Patrick Arthur, Kisumu branch manager of Guardian Bus, said the Covid-19 pandemic has hit their business hard.

''We are now only carrying half the number of passengers one bus can accommodate. For instance, our buses have the capacity to carry 49 passengers, but we now carry only 25,'' he said.

This has grossly affected their daily revenue flows. Mr Arthur disclosed that they used to make up to Sh58,800 per trip before the curfew and self-distancing rules came into force.

This is now history. They have reduced the number of passengers to 25 and increased fare by Sh200, making only Sh35,000.

Keep afloat

The company has 220 drivers who operate on shifts daily earning salaries of about Sh30,000 a month. Arthur says they have to reconsider this number if they are to make profit and keep the business afloat.

The challenge is the same for other operators like Ena Coach, Easy Coach, Modern Coast, Transline and Prisca bus services and shuttle operators.

Shuttles now have to carry seven passengers down from 14 to ensure social distancing.

At the Coast Bus Company main booking office in Mwembe Tayari, Mombasa, attendants said buses destined for Nairobi leave at 7am.

''We have had to drastically reduce the number of buses we deploy on the Mombasa-Nairobi route. We, however, do not have buses going past Nairobi. We encourage those passengers to seek alternative means to reach their destinations,'' a duty officer at the Coast Bus booking office said.

It was a similar story at the Modern Coast Bus company who have had to cancel all their services to Dar es Salaam, Kampala and Kigali in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.

An official said they were not taking any bookings for passengers travelling to upcountry destinations like Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu, Kakamega, Siaya, Busia and Malaba.

Mash Bus Company General Manager Lenox Shallo said they have had to use only four buses, two from Mombasa to Nairobi and a similar number from Nairobi to Mombasa.

Travelling from Nairobi to Lodwar by road now costs Sh4,000 up from Sh2,000.

With curfew orders taking effect, passengers headed to Lodwar from Nairobi have to spend a night in Kitale before continuing with their journey the next morning.

“I used to arrive in Kitale from Nairobi at around 4pm and then proceed to Lodwar, but things have changed. Due to the curfew I have to sleep in Kitale before proceeding with the journey the next day,’’ said James Esenyon, a regular traveller on the route.

And long distance matatus have been forced to suspend more than 80 per cent of their operations.

At the North Rift Sacco's yard, more than 200 14-seater matatus remained parked. The scenario was the same at the Great Rift Sacco stage.

Long distance buses operating between Eldoret and Mombasa have remained parked as the number of travellers have reduced drastically.

"We cannot break even because no one is travelling as the Coast region is affected by the coronavirus," said Salim Ali, a bus driver.

Joseph Kanyi, an operator at North Rift stage, confirmed they have scaled down their travel schedule to accommodate the curfew.

"We are now operating from as early as 5am while the last vehicle leaves the terminus at 12 noon. This allows passengers coming from Eldoret to Nairobi to arrive in time to get to their destination before the curfew takes effect," he said.

Across Mt Kenya region, major matatu Saccos have been forced to reduce their fleet.

Kukena and 2NK saccos have for the past week reduced the number of vehicles plying different routes.

Kukena Sacco now has only 200 vehicles still operating out of a fleet of 600.

High cost

The chairman of the giant matatu cooperative, David Muriithi, attributed this to the high cost of fuel and a reduction in the number of passengers.

A matatu owner, Maina Karanja, lamented that business was slow necessitating them to pull their vehicles from the roads yet they still have to pay their staff.

According to Nyeri 2NK Sacco supervisor Peterson Nderitu, they have reduced the number of vehicles plying the Nyeri-Nairobi route from 50 to 10 daily.

David Kamau, a supervisor at 4NTE Sacco that plies the Nyeri, Nyahururu, Naivasha and Nakuru routes, said their fleet has been reduced from 200 to about 25 in a day.

[Reports by Kepher Otieno, Philip Mwakio, Kevin Tunoi, Osinde Obare, Joseph Muchiri and Jacinta Mutura]


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