State told to pump the brakes on car-free days plan

A traffic jam along Kenyatta Avenue,Nairobi on 03/12/18 after the ban of Matatus and Buses in Nairobi Central Business District(NCBD). [Boniface Okendo,Standard]

The Government’s proposals to introduce a bus rapid transit (BRT) system and car-free days in Nairobi have been met with criticism. Experts also faulted inadequate planning and infrastructure to implement the project.

This comes even as 64 buses, which will be used in a pilot programme to test the BRT system, are expected to arrive at the port of Mombasa this weekend for a planned launch on Thika Road in February.

Alongside the launch of the BRT system, Nairobi will have its first car-free days, where private vehicles and matatus will be restricted to selected roads and streets in the central business district as part of efforts to reduce congestion. 

“This is a plan that has been in development for some time and we will be carrying out a pilot beginning February 1, 2019, where vehicles will be restricted on selected roads on Wednesdays and Saturdays,” said Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia.

Last year, the Government set aside one lane on the busy Thika superhighway as one of the priority routes for the high capacity buses in the BRT network.

Two of the routes that will be part of the BRT network owing to their traffic density are the Limuru-Kangemi-CBD-Imara Daima-Athi River to Kitengela corridor and the Tala-Njiru-Dandora–CBD-Ngong Road one.

Outering Road

Others are the Rongai-Bomas-CBD-Ruiru-Thika-Kenol-Murang’a road corridor as well as on Outering Road, running from the Mama Lucy Hospital to Donholm to the CBD.

Critics, however, say the project has not been fully thought out, with the Government accused of blindly adopting policies from developing countries with varying levels of urban development and investment.

“Car-free days work in countries where there is a functioning transport system and residents experience less congestion, but only because people are using the underground subway system,” said Kenya Bus Service MD Edwin Mukabana.

Pokot South MP David Pkosing, who is the chair of the National Assembly Transport and Public Works Committee, said the Government should first provide an alternative transport system before introducing car-free days.

“If we had a tram and subway railway system, for example, it would be very convenient if as a motorist you are asked to leave your car at home,” he said.

Mr Pkosing added: “We also have people who are sick and the physically challenged. We need to think about how these special groups of people who cannot walk long distances will be accommodated.”

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) indicates the number of 14-seater matatus licensed each year has increased from 9,545 to 17,926 in 2016, a year after the Government announced their ban, to 37,382 last year.

The number of 15-33-seater mini-buses licensed also went up from 3,350 in 2013 to 8,213 in 2016 before falling to 4,246 last year.

While not all of these vehicles licensed operate in Nairobi, the city accounts for a huge chunk of the country’s motor vehicle population, which is growing larger.

In 2017, according to the KNBS report, more than 282,672 new motor vehicles and motor cycles were registered, with a 50 per cent growth in new licenses for motor cycles.  

Plans to set up the BRT system have been there for almost 10 years, with several feasibility and engineering studies conducted but no active deployment of the policy has been conducted.

In 2011, the World Bank approved a Sh30 billion project to upgrade 221 kilometers of roads and boost operations of major transport bodies such as the Kenya National Highways Authority.

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