Matatus, Lords of impunity

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BY BERNARD MOMANYI

After the matatu strike staged by operators on Monday, I decided to take keen interest in their operations just to be sure their concerns were genuine.

Their main grievance was what they termed as “regular police harassment” whenever they carry out their operations which includes arbitrary arrests and general harassment by the traffic police.

These, and many more others are indeed serious issues which we would all love to see addressed if indeed they are genuine, for all of us were affected by the sort of strike we saw this past week, that brought business operations to a virtual standstill.

But are their complaints genuine?

As a road user, and having taken keen interest in their operations, I have made several observations and concluded that matatu operators’ concerns were baseless and deserve to be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

I am not serving any masters here; I am not therefore, defending the police.

This is a matter that affects commuters and motorists countrywide, they too have varied reservations on the issues raised by the matatu operators.

I know for a fact that there are those who sympathised with the Matatu Welfare Association (MWA) Chairman Dickson Mbugua when he announced the ‘tribulations’ his members undergo in their encounters with the police.

Lets sample some of them and I would like to start with the thorny issue of corruption.

Mbugua said his members are forced to part with a bribe of not less than Sh200 whenever they are arrested by the traffic police, even when they have not committed any crime.

You don’t need to own a matatu to know that this statement is a white lie.
I have boarded a matatu on many occasions and I have driven on the same road with these matatus. I have therefore seen and heard it all, before and after this latest strike.

The matatu drivers and their conductors operate with impunity; they pick and drop passengers whenever they find “space” and “time” which they have in plenty.

In fact, I dare any motorist who can confess that he or she has never been obstructed by a matatu picking or dropping a passenger to post a comment here and state how long they have been on the roads, unless they drive in the forest.

I also do not know of a passenger who has not had an encounter with these matatu drivers and conductors or who has simply not witnessed what I have witnessed… talk of overlapping, speeding, use of wrong lanes, obstruction, jumping lights, loud music, unnecessary hooting etc.

The so-called Michuki rules which they are opposed to, demand that no public service vehicle will have multi-colours.

All public service vehicles, the law clearly states, must be painted a single colour and have a yellow line.

Walk around the matatu stages and highways and simple arithmetic will show you that only less than 10 percent have complied.

And I suggest you start with Buru Buru’s route number 58, number 4 and 9 to Eastleigh before you give the matatu operators your vote whenever they are out on strike.

Also start checking from today how many matatus are not playing loud music and count the number of those without reflective materials or functioning brake lights.

After that, you will agree with a Traffic policeman who once told me that “every matatu on the road has one defect or other.”

And to ensure I do not accuse them unfairly, I decided to drive at a speed of 80 kilometres per hour on Thika road on Thursday and all the public service vehicles were cruising past at what I estimated to be not less than 100 kilometres per hour.  Some were even hooting at me, wondering why I was moving at a slow pace.

These and many more laws they break with impunity is what places them at loggerheads with traffic police.

And by the way, also check also how many drivers and conductors are in uniform or how many matatus have functioning seatbelts.
I rest my case!

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