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Traffic eating into people’s working hours

By Peter Theuri | November 7th 2021
By Peter Theuri | November 7th 2021

Traffic Jam along Mombasa road. [File, Standard]

In May 2019, New York Post reported that Americans spent 19 full working days a year stuck in traffic on their commute.

“Americans who commute to and from work end up late due to traffic or too many stops, 77 workdays a year on average,” New York Post quoted a survey by OnePoll conducted on behalf of Valvoline.com.

No study estimates the number of hours Kenyans spends in traffic gridlocks in the city of Nairobi which, with a population running into millions, is the busiest in the region. It could be estimated, however, that Kenyans spend a considerable number of hours wishing traffic congestion away.

The Nairobi Metropolitan Authority (NaMATA) in 2019 said that traffic jams in Nairobi cost the Kenyan economy approximately Sh100 billion every year, which would translate to more than Sh11 million per hour.

The authority noted that the residents of the city and its environs used 57 minutes to commute distances that should take “much less time”.

"This costs the economy an estimated Sh100 billion annually. The traffic conditions have continued to worsen due to increased motorisation brought about by increased economic activities,” said NaMATA in a public statement.

Which would mean that many workers spend more time preparing for work, and leaving work, than they actually use working.

Take for instance John who works along Mombasa Road. John lives in Mwiki, Kasarani. To get to work, he has to go through the CBD. Due to traffic congestion, it often takes John over an hour to cover the 14-kilometre journey to town.

Often, he gets to the city centre at 9am. John then takes a Pipeline-bound matatu and, on bad days, will be at work at around 10.30am.

“The construction along Mombasa Road (The Expressway) means that sometimes there is almost no movement at all even between short stretches of road,” he says.

When he gets to work, John takes tea break. He then goes on to work for half an hour or thereabouts before lunch beckons.

A lazy afternoon, in which he puts in a solid three hours of work, follows. At 5.30pm, John and his workmates file out of office to start the daunting journey back home.

Catch a bus, beat traffic into the CBD, and then queue for minutes awaiting the final bus home. He often enters his house minutes to 9pm.

“By the time I get home, I am very tired. If I wanted to carry some assignments, I wouldn’t have the energy to work on them,” he says.

Five days every week, the routine plays out. By the time the month is over, he is tired as a dog but cannot point to output worth the fatigue.

It is the story of many workers in the city. Time spent preparing, or travelling to and from work, often exceeds time spent at work. Further, the fatigue that workers accumulate makes them less active and less effective.

“I plan to work the normal eight hours,” says Chrispine Onyango, a public relations practitioner.

“I normally have in mind that traffic will take about one to one-and-a-half hours but sometimes it ends up taking up between two and two-and-a-half hours. Worse, the evening traffic makes me either leave office early before doing the eight hours so I can complete my work at home, or finish the work in the office and laze around then leave late when the traffic flow is okay.”

Because work has to be done, Chrispine says that his plans often take a backseat.

“I have to reschedule,” he says.

Before she left the city in a huff, Caroline Nyambura, a banker, was perennially complaining about traffic congestion in the city and uncertainties on the road that made it impossible to plan her time.

"I used to commute from Juja to the CBD and that meant I had to wake up at 5am and get to the matatu terminus by 5:45am to make sure I boarded the first bus,” she says.

“If I caught the bus by that time, I would get to town around 7am and loiter around till 8am when offices are opened. However, if I was late and boarded the bus past 6.20am, I would get to town late. I used to get stuck in traffic around Garden City Mall and the next thing I knew, it would be well past 8am which, meant I was already late for work.” 

Nothing gave her as much reprieve as leaving the city. 

"I now believe there is a luxury in working in the outskirts. You will never break a sweat trying to beat the jam whether you own a car or not,” she says. 

Duro, who works in the media industry, says that whenever one takes to the road, they have to always remember that a part of their time that could be used to work is going to be taken up beating traffic.

“In Nairobi, you have to factor in an extra one and a half hours of traffic whenever you hit the road,” Duro says.  

“I get to work at 8am or 9am and leave at around 5pm to get home at 8pm, sometimes 9pm,” says Graham, who also works for a top media house.

One of the interventions that is expected to solve the problems of traffic congestions in the city is the Expressway, a government’s mega project that will transform the city’s look. 

The Expressway, whose construction is underway, begins at Mlolongo to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), runs past Nairobi’s CBD and ends at Westlands along Waiyaki Way.

It is expected that with the new road, it will take a motorist, skirting the central business district, only 20 minutes to complete an entire commute to Limuru through Westlands.

In a normal flow of traffic currently, it takes in excess of an hour to cover the same stretch. On a bad day of heavy traffic, it is a painful ride.

The route will have two traffic lanes in either direction and will feature 10 interchanges, with a long portion of the expressway being elevated.

While a stressful commute could ruin a day, 71 per cent of Americans found their commute peaceful and relaxing, the OnePoll survey noted.

Sixty-three per cent of Americans interviewed commuting time was a major part of their job decision and for many, work starts in the car on their way to the office. “About one-third of commuters use their drive to visualise their workday and make to-do lists in their heads,” the survey noted.

In a previous interview with The Standard, Waweru Nderitu, the CEO of Notify Logistics, said that he enjoys riding matatus to work. One of the main reasons he mentioned this was that not being on the wheel helped him to engage his mind in an alternative way.

"I can spend my time in traffic reading, or engaging my mind in other matters than staring into traffic so I won’t miss the slightest movement,” he said. 

So, while traffic congestion and other distractions loom and eat into work time, the finest worker will create lemonade right out of it and quench their thirst as if bitter lemons did not exist in the first place.

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