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Matatu sector has greatly improved

COMMENTARY
By Simon Kimutai | November 9th 2015

The matatu sector in Kenya has undergone immense transformation, from the unregulated, chaotic 1990s to a more client focused and fairly safe industry.

This week, a three-day meeting brings together players in the transport sector from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to open The Eastern Africa Transport Conference, scheduled for November 10 to 12, 2015 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), Nairobi. The theme of the conference is “paratransit and road safety”.

This is a remarkable recognition and appreciation of the decency in a field which was ruled by cartels and gangs only a few years back through extortions. The matatu business was synonymous with recklessness, death and violence. Government efforts to introduce an alternative transport system through public funded Nyayo buses failed because of corruption and mismanagement.

The transport sector was characterised by lack of observation of traffic regulations, resulting in a large number of fatal road accidents and serious injuries. There were times when we could not figure out whether public transport was a blessing or a curse.

Passengers were mistreated at will across the country. They were verbally abused and physically assaulted. Theft, hijacking, sexual harassment, beatings were rampant. But today, thanks to the efforts the stakeholders, especially the vehicle owners and the government, policy measures have been put in place to make Public Service Vehicles (PSV) a sober industry that woos many investors yearly. PSV operators are now required to join independent, Government-registered transport companies or Savings and Credit Co-operatives (Saccos).

We now have a vibrant Matatu Owners Association (MOA), which imposes checks and balances on its members.These associations have developed terms of service and codes of conduct for their owners and workers and now they are transforming the industry in its entirety. PSVs are now fitted with seatbelts and speed governors.

In 2004, a phenomenal transformation swept the country. The then Transport and Communications minister, the late John Michuki, single-handedly restored sanity in Kenya’s troubled public transport sector through the so-called Michuki rules.

All PSVs were to operate on clearly de?ned routes under Saccos, carry a speci?ed number of passengers and matatu crew were required to have a clean security record. Fatalities reduced significantly. Disrespect, which could lead to a jail term, saw matatu crew embrace discipline.

In addition, carrying excess passengers was banned. The implementation of the regulations led to a drastic reduction in the number of people killed or injured in road accidents. Notably, many Saccos have deployed digital tracking and fleet management systems to support business operations and prevent criminal activity.

MOA is confident that a bold new era of cashless fare payment system (using a card to pay fares) would improve efficiency.Noteworthy, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) has a rule that slaps a blanket suspension on all public service vehicles attached to a Sacco when one of them commits a traffic offence. This is geared towards ensuring matatu Sacco’s and all their staff comply with traffic rules.

My association has made a welcoming proposal to have drivers and conductors paid regular salaries. This proposal is aimed at ensuring PSV drivers and conductors get standard salaries to enable them pay income taxes and also contribute to the National Social Security Fund and the National Hospital Insurance Fund.

Recently through a proposal, I requested the Government to allow the National Youth Service to train matatu drivers as a way of having qualified drivers on the roads. This was informed by the need to have them (drivers) well equipped to observe traffic rules to the fullest.

It is through these milestones that MOA, University of Nairobi and other stakeholders have organised the session, which will deliberate on issues of road safety including cross border operations, the challenges and opportunities being experienced. Delegates will deliberate on safety regulations and controls enforced in the region.

MOA appreciates the genuine and mounting need to harmonise safety regulations and controls. The association also hopes that deliberations will generate solutions that Kenyans and people of East Africa will be proud of for generations to come. MOA has taken the obligation to draw together the various national and regional Public Service Vehicle (PSV) bodies to unite and work together. These are geared towards forming a regional secretariat to articulate, lobby and speak with one voice in effectively addressing pertinent issues in the transport sector.

New ideas and technologies being explored for introduction into the transport sector will also be discussed. This includes the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) concept which has been recommended as one of possible solutions.

This system is expected to decongest the city of Nairobi, which has suffered many challenges to business due to persistent traffic jams.

Mr Kimutai is the Chairman, Matatu Owners Association

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