City commuters suffer as tough Michuki rules return

Some of the matatus that were impounded on Sunday and yesterday parked at the Buru Buru Police Station yesterday. [Beverlyne Musili, Standard]

Laban Ochieng is a disciplined man. Before taking any action, no matter how insignificant, he makes keen and laborious plans.

So last week, as Mr Ochieng planned a trip to his family home in Kisumu, he knew he had to arrive at the bus stage early so as to have a smooth and stress-free journey. That is what he did yesterday morning.

Ochieng is not a resident of Nairobi. Earlier that morning, he had travelled from Murang'a County, a distance of more than an hour by public transport, which would mean he left home between 4am and 4.30am.

Yet, even with his discipline of getting up early, Ochieng's journey still went horribly awry.

"I arrived here by 5.30am," Ochieng told The Standard at the Machakos Country Bus Station in Nairobi yesterday. "I was hopeful that the bus would have departed Nairobi by at least 7am." 

By 9am, Ochieng was still waiting for the bus to set off.

"Most passengers are stranded in their estates and are unable to make it here, but the buses cannot leave half-empty because they will incur losses. So they have to wait for the other passengers to come," Ochieng explained.

Additional Sh500

While Ochieng understood the inconvenience and accepted it, he was worried of a far bigger consequence — having to spend more money.

"This situation has put pressure on my pocket. The last time I travelled to Kisumu I paid Sh1,000 and now I have to pay an additional Sh500. Buses have hiked their fares because of the crackdown on public service vehicles. I was not ready to spend so much."

Ochieng was one of thousands of passengers affected by yesterday's matatu crackdown, even as authorities warned Kenyans to brace themselves for harder times.

Police boss Joseph Boinnet termed the crackdown, which started on Sunday, as “just” a rehearsal in readiness for the return of the Michuki rules from November 12.

Mr Boinnet said the crackdown was aimed at ensuring the safety of Kenyans.

He warned matatu operators who have not met the requirements to do so or keep their vehicles at home.

“This is just a taste of things to come after the launch of a major operation on Friday. We shall no longer joke with road safety.”

Boinnet asked for support from stakeholders to tame road carnage.

Police yesterday detained dozens of vehicles, mostly those with tinted windows, for flouting the law.  

At Buru Buru Police Station in Nairobi, more than 80 dusty public service vehicles filled nearly three-quarters of the extensive car yard.

Most of the vehicles belonged to matatu saccos operating in Nairobi's populous Eastlands - Embassava, Obamana, R.O.G, Forward, Utimo, C-Bet and Double M.

Majority of the vehicles, according to a police officer at the station, were impounded on Sunday and yesterday morning.

But while the buses remained parked at Buru Buru and various other police stations in the city, it was commuters who felt the heat.

In Nairobi and outskirt towns such as Kitengela and Ongata Rongai, commuters waited helplessly at stages, biding time as the cold of the early morning faded into the heat of mid-morning.

"I was at the stage by 6am but only got a bus at 7.30am. I hope I will not be late for my exams," said Amina Abdul in Nairobi's Fedha estate, a student at a college in the city centre.

The passengers accused saccos of taking advantage of their desperation. Social media users from Thika and Kitengela said they paid Sh200, double the normal fare.

Matatus from Limuru to the city hiked fares from Sh80 to Sh150, catching many people by surprise.

Touts and drivers were seen removing tints and graffiti from their vehicles.

"Police have become very petty. They are arresting us because of tints and graffiti even when everything else is okay. Now am grounded till I remove it,” said one driver.

A driver along the route claimed he had to part with Sh2,000 on Sunday and another Sh1,000 yesterday to buy his freedom from police

"It is as if am working to enrich this officers. In two days I have lost Sh3,000 to secure my release. The Government cleared this vehicle for operation after inspection and gave a sticker. It's very confusing."

At Kwambira garage along the Nakuru/Nairobi highway matatu crews were removing tints from vehicle windows.

Counting losses

“See the kind of loss we are making. I am removing these glasses and installing another set at a cost of Sh5,000 shillings each. Today alone I am counting losses in excess of Sh10,000,” a driver lamented.

In Nairobi, the number of passengers boarding the trains was evidently higher yesterday.

On social media, Nairobians wondered why the crackdown was being conducted during the examination period.

Matatu Owners Association boss Simon Kimutai opposed the crackdown, arguing that the Michuki rules were suspended by Justice George Odunga.

“Justice Odunga suspended the Michuki rules. I wonder why they are still the talk of town,” Mr Kimutai said.

[Josphat Thiong'o, Gloria Aradi and George Njunge]

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