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Bus rapid transit system will solve city’s traffic woes

By Clifford Otieno | June 9th 2015

Recent measures by the Nairobi City County to streamline flow of traffic on major roads by eliminating some roundabouts along Uhuru Highway and Waiyaki Way drew mixed reactions from residents. The reactions came in form of both praise and criticism, with success being reported at some sections and failure at others.

This necessitated county officials to remove the barriers at the Nyayo Stadium and Lusaka roundabouts, while retaining those at the Westlands roundabout, where they had actually worked towards streamlining the flow of traffic, and as a result, reducing the previously common snarl-ups in that area.

The Governor of Nairobi County Evans Kidero has also talked of plans to replace all the roundabouts with signalised intersections to enable seamless traffic flow. These measures, in my opinion, will only address the traffic situation in the short term because Nairobi’s population continues to grow.

This implies an increase in the demand for public transport vehicles. The number of middle class residents is also on the rise, and so is the number of private motor vehicles, going by the latest statistics from the registrar of motor vehicles. Keeping the growth factor constant, traffic will inevitably continue to be a challenge if long term measures are not taken.

One of the long term measures that has been implemented successfully elsewhere is the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). BRTS has been implemented in Curitiba in Brazil and New Delhi in India with huge success. The same can be replicated in Nairobi.

Bus Rapid Transit System

BRTS is a bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable and cost-effective services at metro-level capacity. This is enabled through the provision of dedicated lanes, with busways and iconic stations typically aligned to the centre of the road, off-board fare collection and fast and frequent operations.

BRT systems have a number of salient features that make them faster and more convenient. They include dedicated lanes that ensures that the buses are not delayed by mixed traffic congestion, busway alignment that keeps the buses away from busy curb side where cars may be parking or turning and off-board fare collection systems where fare is paid at the station as opposed to inside the buses.

Others are intersection treatments, which prohibit turns across the dedicated bus lanes, and platform-level boarding at stations for quick and easy boarding. There have been proposals by the Nairobi County Government and Ministry of Transport to develop BRT systems along the major roads in a bid to ease traffic. Though the details are not yet in the public domain, our expectations about the anticipated project are high, going by the current resolve by the county leadership to permanently address the traffic snarl-ups.

This is evidenced by the opening up of the southern by pass and restricting the heavy trucks to that section during peak hours, coupled with the roundabout barriers.

Challenges are expected

Challenges are expected to arise during the development of BRTS, ranging from the high investment to awareness campaigns. A project of this magnitude will involve input from the county government, national government and other implementing agencies. As such, only well-coordinated and synergised efforts will ensure success.

 Fiscal incentives

With regard to the initial cost, the national government can play a vital role by offering tax incentives to the various parties that will be involved in the project. With a project of such magnitude, external funding is likely to be utilised. As such, the goods and equipment imported for use in the aid-funded project will be exempted from import duty under the Fifth Schedule of the East African Community Customs Act.

Exemptions from import declaration fees and the railway development levy will further reduce the cost. With the enactment of the VAT Act 2013, donor-funded projects are no longer zero-rated. As such, supplies to such projects attract VAT at the standard 16 per cent rate, driving the project costs higher.

On the other hand, donors insist that their funds should be used for the intended development projects alone, and not for paying local taxes. Thus there is need for the Government to come up with appropriate measures to ensure that development projects are not hampered by local taxes, for example, amending the VAT Act to provide for VAT remission or exemption for donor-funded projects.

Goods and services

The solution to Nairobi’s traffic nightmare lies in the BRTS and as the old proverb goes, ‘Rome was not built in a day’, it will involve a lot of planning and capital-intensive investment that must be undertaken alongside the provision of other public goods and services.

Residents and implementing agencies should play various roles to ensure its success. We saw it in the Thika Superhighway Project, why not the Nairobi BRTS?

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