End of the road? Job loss fears as BRT takes shape

The progress of BRT Shade constructed along Thika superhighway on March 13, 2021.[Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

The rollout of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system may render some roles in the multi-million-shilling matatu industry obsolete, leaving many of the crews jobless.

Stakeholders say having large buses with the capacity to carry over 100 people at once and designated stations as pick-up points under BRT will leave little or no room for multiple 14-seater matatus and minibuses.

As part of the pilot project, works on pick-up and drop-off points are currently in progress on the busy Thika Superhighway to pave way for high-capacity express buses that will use the inner lanes on both sides of the dual carriageway.

The points linked to footbridges will then serve as BRT stations erected along sections between the carriageways. This means passengers boarding or alighting will not have to worry about crossing through the lanes.

The stations have been designed in such a way that access and exit from the stations is through the footbridge.

There is little room for commuters to slip or sneak through motorways.

This is part of an integrated public transport service linked to Nairobi Commuter Rail Network (NCRN) that has commuter stations in Kikuyu, Embakasi Village, Pipeline, Donholm, Dandora, Kahawa, Ruiru, Athi River, Githurai and Mwiki.

The BRT concept, which aims to decongest the city and reduce travel time, is being supervised by Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority.

So far, works on designated BRT stations are ongoing at Safari Park, Roysambu, Clayworks, Kahawa Barracks and Kenyatta University.  

Completion of the project on the busy road means some drivers, conductors, stage managers, stand-in drivers and touts could be rendered jobless.  

Matatu Owners Association (MOA) Chairperson Simon Kimutai said a compensation scheme for those who will be affected has been mooted.  

“There will definitely be those who will have to go out of business, but the government has provided a mechanism on how they will either be offered compensation to quit or their units (vehicles) bought by the government and given shares in the BRT system,” he said.

The rollout of the new transport system on the Thika Superhighway, which is the gateway into Nairobi from Central Kenya and parts of Eastern and North-Eastern parts of Kenya, comes at a time when the government has reduced the licensing of new public service vehicles (PSVs), according to the 2020 Economic Survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

According to the 2020 report, while the number of PSV licences issued for matatus increased by 28.2 per cent to 47,183 in 2019, licences issued to high-capacity buses decreased by 32.4 per cent to 8,969 over the same period.

“PSV licences issued for minibuses also decreased from 7,861 in 2018 to 7,786 in 2019,” says the report.

The average income from a single matatu, according to MOA is Sh15,000, but the income varies, depending on seat capacity and route.

Conditional compensation

Matatu Welfare Association Chairman Dickson Mbugua said compensation for lost income following the rollout of BRT will be conditional.

“Their vehicles will not be crushed, but they will be compensated and allowed to keep them. They can put them in other businesses but not as matatus in the city,” he said.

The government through Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (Namata) has allocated five routes to BRT, which crisscross the Nairobi Metropolitan area from as far as Ruiru in Kiambu County to Athi River in Machakos County, ending in Kitengela in Kajiado County.

These areas are currently being served by matatus from various Saccos, which are linked to the Central Business District (CBD) in Nairobi.

BRT routes have been split into five routes (lines), four of which pass through the CBD.

Line Five, which does not pass through CBD, will operate from Ridgeways, pass through Kiambu Road and head to All Sopps before terminating at Imara Daima off Mombasa Road.

Line Four will start from Mama Lucy Hospital, head to Donholm through Jogoo Road then CBD and proceed to T-Mall, Bomas, Karen before ending at Kikuyu in Kiambu County.

Line Three will start from Tala, head to Njiru, Dandora through Juja Raod into the CBD. It will then proceed to the Showground on Ngong Road and stop in Ngong town.

Line Two will use the Rongai–CBD route through Bomas and Langata Road before heading to Ruiru, Thika and stop in Kenol.

Line One, on the other hand, will start its journey in Kangemi head to the CBD then along Mombasa Road to Imara Daima before continuing to Athi River and stop in Kitengela.

MOA’s Kimutai, however, insisted that since BRT buses will operate on dedicated lanes, there will still be room for other players, according to benchmarking done in South America and South Africa.

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