Tread carefully on 'private matatus'

In the past few days, urban dwellers have been leaving for their upcountry homes in droves. Christmas is here and everyone wants to celebrate the birth of Jesus with their relatives.

At the same time, traffic police officers have intensified vigilance to ensure that no blood is spilt on our roads during the festive season. This is a good move as the number of road crashes tends to peak around this time. Many drivers have found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

However, police appear to have gone into overdrive in their bid to keep the roads safe. Besides reining in speeding motorists and un-roadworthy vehicles, police in Naivasha and elsewhere, have also been on the lookout for drivers of private cars who carry passengers for a fee.

It is illegal for owners of private vehicles to ferry and charge passengers and police are perfectly within the law to arrest such people. However, enforcing such a law is tricky and police run the risk of shooting themselves in the foot.

Just how do you tell that a car is carrying paying passengers? According to one officer involved in the operation, it’s easy as ABC.

The officers, he revealed, are looking at the ID cards of the passengers to determine whether they are related to the driver. “In many cases, the passengers hail from different ethnic backgrounds and this makes our work easier,” said the officer.

But there is a problem of a legal nature here. Unless passengers confess that they have paid for the journey or police find a driver soliciting for passengers at a bus stop, its unlikely they can tell with confidence that an offence has been committed.

Furthermore, there is no law that stipulates that a car owner must only ferry himself or members of his/her family. If such a law exists, it’s retrogressive and should be done away with pronto. Secondly, no law forbids drivers from giving a ride to people from a different community. If anything, Francis ole Kaparo’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission should encourage this.