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Fares drop after matatu operators carry to capacity

By Macharia Kamau | September 9th 2021

Passengers board a bus in Nairobi. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operators have started reducing fares after they were allowed to carry full capacity last month.

Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) indicates that commuters on some routes are paying as much as 20 per cent less because the vehicles can now ferry more passengers per trip.

In its inflation numbers for August, KNBS noted that travellers between Nairobi and Meru were paying 20 per cent lower at an average of Sh800 in August against Sh1,000 commuters paid in July, attributing the decline to the lifting of restrictions put in place to curb Covid-19 spread.

The restrictions had reduced the number of passengers matatus could carry by about a third.

The fare between Bomas of Kenya and Nyayo Stadium was 16 per cent lower at Sh50 from Sh60, according to KNBS.

This resulted in the Transport Index of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) declining 0.32 per cent. The index is the third-largest item in the CPI basket with a weight of 9.65 per cent behind food and non-alcoholic beverages at 32.91 per cent, and housing, water, electricity and gas at 14.61 per cent.

Passengers board a matatu at Accra Road, Nairobi. [David Njaaga, Standard]

“Transport index decreased by 0.32 per cent mainly due to decreases in bus fares of country and city public service vehicles,” said KNBS. “This is mainly as a result of the return to carrying of full capacity for public service vehicles in the month of August 2021.”

The drop in fares could have been higher were it not for the sustained high fuel prices seen over the last year, with diesel currently retailing at Sh107.66 per litre in Nairobi. PSVs largely use diesel.

Super petrol, mostly used by private motorists and also considered in the transport index, is retailing at near-record high of Sh127.14 per litre.

Fuel prices had reduced mid last year after crude prices crashed due to decline in demand globally owing to travel restrictions aimed at curbing Covid-19 spread.

Diesel prices reduced to Sh74.57 per litre in Nairobi in July last year, the lowest since February 2016.

This did not result in lower fares due to the reduced capacity in matatus. PSVs have since last year operated at 60 per cent capacity until August this year when the Transport ministry lifted the restrictions.

“On some routes, fares have dropped drastically,” said Association of Bus Operators chairman Edwin Mukabana, but also added that there are operators who are yet to bring down their costs.

He said the government should speed up vaccination to protect Kenyans and get the economy back on its feet, while considering PSV crews as frontline workers because of the important role they play and their level of exposure while at work.

While operating at full capacity, the industry, as with other economic sectors, still has to grapple with other restrictions such as the night curfew.

Association of Bus Operators chairman Edwin Mukabana. [Courtesy]

“We are pleading with the government to fully reopen the economy. Unlike last year when we were starting to grapple with the pandemic, now we have a bit of experience on working while staying safe,” Mr Mukabana said, adding that resumption of normal activities in places such as schools had not resulted in significantly higher Covid-19 infections.

“Since PSVs started operating at full capacity, we have not seen a surge in new infections,” he said.

“We have also seen the education sector reopen and there wasn’t a spike in the number of new Covid-19 cases.”

Despite resuming full capacity operations, Covid-19 has dealt the matatu industry major blows that it might never recover from.

These include changes in people’s work habits, with some firms now adopting a hybrid approach as some employees work from home.

Commuters are also increasingly cautious, with a few who can afford taking cabs doing so rather than boarding matatus.

“The installed capacity is still not being fully utilised as some people are still working from home,” Mukabana said.

“The curfew is still in place and there is also increased preference for taxi-hailing apps, understandably, as Covid-19 is still with us.”  

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