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ELECTION 2022

New face of city transport: Will posh NYS buses succeed?

NAIROBI
By Akello Odenyo | Apr 2nd 2018 | 4 min read
One of the 27 newly-launched NYS buses in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

When the green National Youth Service (NYS) bus pulled into the Kencom stage in the central business district, a large crowd of eager passengers pushed and scrambled to get inside, even though the door was locked.

Just in time, a young-looking NYS officer dressed in full camouflage kit stepped out of the bus with Sh20 tickets and calmly asked the crowd to queue. One by one, the passengers paid and climbed aboard.

Inside the Yutong model bus, the excited passengers took their upholstered leather seats, with some pulling the drapes on the windows to block the bright evening sun.

Unlike the matatus, where passengers have to walk sideways to their seats to avoid bumping other commuters, the aisle in the NYS bus was spacious, allowing the passengers to move with their luggage hanging freely from their hands.

Seven routes

This is one of the 27 NYS buses dispatched to seven city routes, each taking at least four round-trips daily - the first two between 5am and 9am, and the last two between 5pm and 9pm - from Kencom and OTC bus stages. This particular one was making its first evening trip to Kawangware.

In total, the buses ferry at least 6,488 passengers daily on official work days.

The buses operate on the Kibera, Githurai, Mwiki, Mukuru kwa Njenga, Dandora, Kariobangi and Kawangware routes. On some of these routes, matatus charge up to Sh200 during peak hours, especially when it rains. 

With the luxury of automated doors and air conditioning, all for Sh20, commuters who get a chance to ride in any of the NYS buses hope it is the end of their transport tribulations.

However, city residents have been questioning how long the buses will remain in operation and how effective the service will be in solving the chaotic public transport sector.

According to NYS Director General Richard Ndubai, the buses are a long-term plan to resolve the transport crisis that has plagued the city for more than two decades. He said more buses would be dispatched to new routes in the next three weeks.

In about two months, he said, they would introduce 50 more buses on other Nairobi roads.

Ease movement

The buses were launched just a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta called on transport stakeholders to find ways to ease movement within the city. Many people have questioned the sustainability of the idea, terming it rushed.

But Mr Ndubai said the plan had been well thought out as one of the strategies to improve public transport in the city. 

He said the decision was a result of many discussions among stakeholders that included the county government, Ministry of Transport, National Transport and Safety Authority and the National Police Service.

He said the buses would help to decongest the city, restore discipline on the roads and stabilise fares.

“Many parameters were considered in the selection of the routes. We had received numerous complaints that matatu operators on some routes were charging up to four times the normal fares when it rains,” said Ndubai.

Commuting has been a daily hassle for thousands of city residents where public transport systems are under-developed and typically overwhelmed by the fast-rising number of urban dwellers.

For Nairobi’s colourful matatus, which carry masses of people every day across the city, the pervasive chaos make the hassle even more torturous for commuters.

Individual matatus and routes are privately owned and operated, which means schedules and ticket prices can be changed on the whim of whoever is in charge.

But will the city see a return of organised scheduled bus services as used to happen before the advent of matatus?

Ndubai said that might still be difficult to achieve due to traffic snarl-ups, which make it hard to determine how much time a bus spends on the road.

He however said stakeholders in the transport sector were grappling with how to operate scheduled transportation in the city.

But the NYS buses are a development that has excited even the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu).

Matatu industry

“Kenyans have suffered for a long time at the hands of gangs in the unorganised matatu industry," said Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli. "Passengers lose their freedom and dignity when they board matatus and workers have suffered for a long time in the uncontrolled system."

Mr Atwoli said passengers had lost money as matatu conductors ran away with change not to mention sexual harassment inside the matatus.

However, the Association of Matatu Operators in Nairobi Central Business District has accused the Government of unfair competition.

Chairman Jimal Ibrahim said the Government could not expect operators to charge the same fare as NYS buses, which he claimed did not pay industry levies.

“They are trying to create a civil war between the Government and the matatu industry. Somebody cannot just wake up and introduce buses as if there was nothing going on before," said Mr Ibrahim.

“We do not want to react but we can act and we are planning to act if our grievances are not listened to."

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