Agonising start for Kenyan commuters

January 4, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 4 – Thousands of residents in Nairobi, Mombasa and Nyeri woke up to a rude start on Monday morning after matatu operators made good on their nationwide strike threat and stayed off the roads.

Commuters were forced to trek to their workplaces as the three-day strike by Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operators took effect.

Matatus in parts of Nairobi and Mombasa operated briefly in the wee hours of the morning before parking at their usual overnight spots. School children who resumed classes and others who started their first day of learning on Monday were most affected.

Speaking to Capital News, some commuters said they had to walk for as long as one and a half hours to get to the city centre while those who were lucky to get PSVs had to pay more than double the fare to be taken to their destinations.

“Things are really bad today… I’ve never witnessed such a strike. Boda bodas are charging us Sh300 from Mathare North to town. There is no single PSV on the road.  All the vehicles are personal ones and getting them to give you a lift is very hard. I still can’t believe I am in town and I don’t know how I will go home,” said one commuter. 

Some commuters blamed the government for the inconveniencing strike saying authorities should pay attention to the matatu operators’ woes as it affected innocent citizens.

“The government should look into this matter because this is an issue between the government and the matatu operators. As commuters, we do not know what exactly the issue is but we are the ones most affected,” said one commuter.

Meanwhile, matatu operators justified the strike saying it was aimed at drawing the government’s attention to alleged police extortion and harassment.

“We will strike today and if we don’t succeed we will organise for another strike until the day when we have leaders who understand what we go through unlike the current Police Commissioner and Transport Minister. We are in business and we do not just go to the roads for fun. These leaders should not take us as trash… that every time we are on the road we are like gazelles in a forest,” said a driver who operates the Kayole route. 

The operators also downplayed the losses incurred as a result of the strike, saying they were willing to sacrifice their profits to ensure their complaints were addressed.

“It is okay if we make losses in the three-day period. Some of those who fought for our independence died, so money is not important. What is important is getting our rights.  We just want to be treated with respect,” said a conductor who stressed that operators were willing to comply with existing laws.

“We are not above the law but the police should stop abusing our rights. They pull off number plates simply because the vehicles have tinted windows and then they claim the car is unroadworthy.”

For operators in Kisumu and Kisii however, business continued as usual with Kisumu Bus Terminus Transport Association Chairman Aggrey Ouma saying the strike was not all-inclusive and its timing was inappropriate.

Mr Ouma further blamed Matatu Welfare Association Chairman Dickson Mbugua for not consulting them over the strike.

“Mr Mbugua ought to have gone across the country to document problems bedeviling the transport sector in other provinces before calling for a strike. The problem matatu operators are experiencing in Nairobi should not be replicated to mean that the entire country has the same problem,” he said.


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