Planning and the political will to execute solutions answer to road traffic congestion

Traffic jam along Thika Road on Monday December 3, 2018.
Kenya’s road traffic congestion problems solvable through planning and political will to execute solutions.

Traffic congestion in Nairobi has been a policy issue which has often called for a policy response that would be implemented and regulated without across regime changes hence striking a balance between urban densities and mobility.

 Past policy initiatives not yielded desired outcomes. This has been mainly due to lack of the win-win strategies of solving traffic congestion problems such as traffic management measures with transit-oriented mixed and compact development options.

 Non-motorised transport options such as walking, cycling and prioritization of public transport managed by government are part of these considerations.

Many Kenyans have always asked whether public transport should compete with private car ownership, a phenomenon which proves to be a hard nut to crack and understand. Private car owners have often disliked the public transport and always perceived it as a pro-poor means of transport.

Many of them always would have preferred to use the public transport but decided not to because of the crudity of PSV operators and their employees.

Public Service Vehicles are technically private means of transport since it they not government-owned and are aimed at maximisation of profit yet public transport shouldn’t be a profit making entity.

The said PSVs are properly maintained since they lack seatbelts and if they have them, most of them are always dirty as described by fervent matatu users.

The rapid urban growth of Nairobi’s urban daytime population of approximately more than 5 million and urban development located far from the work place, commercial nodes and educational centres complicate public transport.

 This worsens with growth in physical development and has exerted enormous pressure on its transport systems with burgeoning travel demand that overwhelms the limited public transport infrastructure facilities and services.

Public transport and most of the alternative modes of transport are perceived to be uncomfortable, inefficient and chaotic if not dangerous.

Most private car owners would avoid the private means of transport even if congestion is severe unless such concerns of comfort, convenience, security and safety are addressed. Most of the transport terminals are not seamless for people with luggage, children, elderly or those with health conditions.

These issues shouldn’t be taken lightly by policy makers in establishment and management of transport systems.

Terminal facilities lack crucial sanitation facilities and seamless transition from one mode of transport to another which should be done in an integrated manner. In addition, the few overpasses were not designed to carry the anticipated population and most of them have not provided for the needs of people with disabilities.

There has been lack of supportive policies prioritising public transport systems and budgetary allocations for maintaining, managing and upgrading urban infrastructure systems.

Contrary to the expectations of investing in public transport to address the daunting urban transport problems with lower fare rates on the majority lower income commuters, it has been the extreme opposite for many poor city residents who are charged high fares.

Most of the transport terminals have attracted hawkers, which have made the traders reap heavily under such circumstances where there is relaxed enforcement.

Way forward

Efficient public transport systems that have humans in mind can offer solutions to the current transport problems.

The urban structure of Nairobi with its high population densities requires a shift from private transport to public transport use (mass transit) owned and operated by government for effective and efficient transport management with reliable and fixed travel times.

High capacity vehicles can improve the overall transportation capacity hence releasing the burden of excess demand on congested roads. This highly depends on the transport infrastructure and service provision to facilitate smooth mobility and maneuverability. Historical land use patterns and transport generators have to be understood in management of the transport systems where such mass transit options have to be provided for.

Mass transit options such as implementation of the BRT systems can salvage the situation when done in an integrated manner coupled with alternative modes of transport such as NMTs done in a seamless manner.

This will enhance social equity, fairness and provision of public transport which serves the majority of the population which is voiceless and does not have the power to protest as high end citizens do.

Physical Planners should enhance compact mixed use development to encourage walkable distances with provision of Transit Oriented Development to facilitate effective implementation of the Mass Transit Systems.

Although the government may receive grants and donations, they may derail the process with lengthy and bureaucratic processes.

The government has therefore to invent options of raising funds to develop the infrastructure which can accommodate the mass transit proposals since some of the roads were not designed for such mass transit vehicles for maneuverability

Policy makers must always plan to make transport systems efficient keeping in mind that commuting in congested traffic corridors is not something people actively enjoy whether in their private vehicle, public transport, cycling or walking.

 People always want to get to their destinations without wasting time. This can only be achievable with an efficient transport system.

Policy makers should therefore aim at reducing the functionality, psychological and perceptional values of private means of transport.

Public transport can be improved through introduction of park and ride transport, increase in parking fees within the CBD and introduction of charges during the peak hours to ensure only those who go to work or school can have a reason to travel during the peak hours, provision of more routes, more frequent service, faster service, grade separation by provision of bus/high occupancy vehicle lanes, vehicles and stations with comfort, improved user information, reliability, convenient payment systems, seamless transfer, improved station access, provisions to accommodate people with disabilities.

Most of the roads are not engineered for the current urban population densities. This can only be addressed by making mass transit modes such as high capacity buses, trains attractive.

The government should invest in public transport and discourage private transport and driving and by providing alternatives to driving such as non-motorised transport modes.

The government has to prioritize for public transport.

Adequate parking has to be provided for to minimise incidents of drivers looking for parking spaces hence creating chaos and traffic congestion.

While remaining at the core of mobility in the cities and urban areas, public transport owned by government should adopt to its form and functionality by meeting evolving customer demand and expectations.

 Its role in the city has been the backbone of the mobility system and local economy which is under threat and therefore must evolve to remain relevant.

Changing public expectations, growing pressure on transport demand, coupled with less public financing, implies the need for new governance approaches to oversee networks that will be crucial in the years to come.

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