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Luring passengers using fake travellers is illegal - police

Passenger's in a matatu at Migori bus terminus, August 2021. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

If you have been to the Machakos country bus terminus in Nairobi or booked a bus to an upcountry destination, then you know the pain that touts can inflict on passengers.

At the oldest bus park in the city, all kinds of tricks are used to convince passengers to board buses.

There is a common trend called ‘Kupiga set’ where fake passengers are bribed to sit inside buses to attract passengers who think the vehicle is almost full.

In other situations, touts scramble for luggage in a tug-of-war, forcing the passengers to follow the winner. In many cases, female passengers are sexually harassed.

Earlier this week, there were reports of fake passengers being arrested in Lilongwe, Malawi, at a bus terminal. The incident elicited reactions from Kenyans who say they have been victims.

The report said 16 fake passengers were arrested.

In Kenya, those who take part in ‘Kupiga set’ have their days numbered since the matter has been brought to the attention of the police.

Such cases are rampant in bus terminals in major towns. In Nairobi, the famous Machakos country bus tops the list.

“The trick is common at the Machakos country bus terminal. Touts occupy window seats to dupe genuine passengers that the bus is almost full,” said Jackline Anyongo, who was traveling to Kisii.

“Sometimes, passengers pay only to wait for hours after the fake passengers have alighted. It happens in other bus stages in Nairobi, police should address this.”

National Police Service spokesperson Bruno Shioso now says it is illegal to bribe touts to pose as passengers.

Touts at Migori bus terminus, August 2021. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

According to Shioso, the culprits will be treated as suspects. “It is illegal. We have a squad that handles such cases. It has been a growing habit that should not be entertained,” he added.

But Matatu Welfare Association chairman Dickson Mbugua said the practice is not illegal. He said there is no law that bars touts from earning a living.

Even though he admits the practice exists, he argues that it only happens in long-distance vehicles.

“These days, it is not common because matatus no longer compete for passengers. For town services, it is there but in rare cases. There is no law barring that and there is no way any law enforcer will start arresting these young men. That is the courtesy of the stage Sacco managers, who want to ensure the young men have something to take home at the end of the day,” he told The Nairobian.

Resident Stephen Kinyanjui has also been a victim. His mobile phone and cash were stolen as touts forced him to board an empty bus while travelling to Eldoret in January.

“I arrived at the terminus a few minutes to 7am and met a tout who convinced me to board a bus at a reasonable price.

“But when he led me to the man issuing tickets, I realised that no one had boarded the bus. When I refused to pay to board the empty bus, the conductor threatened to unleash his ‘boys’ to deal with me,” he added.

When he tried to get out of the bus, he was beaten up by an army of touts who also stole from him.

“I reported the matter to the nearby Kamukunji Police Station and two men were arrested. My phone was recovered and cash returned, but many people are still suffering.”

A trader around the terminal said she has witnessed people losing their belongings even with police officers standing nearby.