Transport chaos exposes true cost of greed

PSV vehicles at the Green Park terminus when NMS carried out the final test run. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Driving in Nairobi has often been likened to navigating the narrows of troubled places like the Gaza Strip, Donetsk or West Bank. Strokes of pervasive regulatory failures have frustrated transport sector reforms almost to a point of no return.

The industry is huffing and puffing. From faulty vehicles, speed limit violations, inspection gaps, reckless crews, corrupt enforcers, bogus driver competence testing and name it, the mess is enough to make those in-charge resign out of shame.

In March, a woman driver was molested on Prof Wangari Maathai Road, leading to calls for a rapid response team to crack down on rogue matatu and boda boda operators.

What followed was politicisation of investigations. There have been several brutal cases on our roads, including instant burning of vehicles by boda boda riders. But authorities look the other way.

One would be forgiven to conclude that anything progressive in the sector long died with John Michuki – the architect of the ‘Michuki rules.’   

Early this week, a non-state actor developed what it calls public transport code of conduct primed to set behavioural standards for Public Service Vehicle saccos, owners, crew and partners. The proposals, in my view, are stimulating.

Rot in the sector is not about lack of laws. We’ve great laws but greed has made them fail. President Kenyatta has just assented to the Traffic Amendment Bill 2021. The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) keeps reminding us of offences, consequences and penalties but few care.

This latest attempt at putting in place an effective code of conduct calls for instant support.

The blueprint by the Political Leadership and Governance Programme contains creative proposals on how to restore order on the road.

The code’s proponents propose that every matatu crew member be handed a copy of the document, be made to read and acknowledge it before signing up. It obliges matatu owners and saccos to rein in substance abuse and aggressive behaviour, including carrying of dangerous weapons by drivers and conductors.  

While it’s next to impossible to imagine politicians would support the proposed code or push for meaningful changes now because it could cost them votes, the new administration after August 9 should consider it.

Traffic police receive bribes from matatus in full public glare, including along major highways. Many Kenyans miss the period between 2002 and 2003 in Narc’s early days when they were among the most optimistic in the region.

Those days, the public would confront bribe-eating officers and other law breakers and frog-march them to police stations. Today, however, citizens seem to have summarily given up yet the traffic sector is swelling fast.  As per last year’s KNBS data, Kenya has 3,954,839 registered vehicles. Of these, we have 1,967,250 motor and auto cycles and 1,196,054 motor cars. The remainder are trucks, buses, trailers and others.

Building on the proposed code of conduct, the public has an opportunity to pile more pressure on authorities to do their job. We can make it the new guide book. But the public too should know where to put themselves for ignoring basic safety rules like belting up or boarding matatus at designated points.  

With good laws, a well-funded NTSA, the police and a functional Judiciary, one wonders why the government would appear helpless or be at peace with a chaotic transport sector. We aren’t a failed State.

The streak of lawlessness across the country prompts the question ‘just who bewitched us?’ or ‘where did we go wrong?’ For now, time and moment will be the ultimate judge.

The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo

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