It used to be said that when you set up an appointment, you had to specify whether it was strictly European time or Kenyan time.
In those days, we made that distinction because it was understood that keeping time was within our control. Now, with the traffic congestion in Nairobi, there is no guarantee that you will get where you are going on time …even if you allocate extra time for emergencies.
Imagine that you are leaving town to go to Westlands and allocate 45 generous minutes for the journey. When you get to GPO, you discover that a high powered delegation is driving through and virtually all traffic has been grounded. On top of that, the traffic snarl-up has slowly jammed every side street and you are unable to go back or take a different route. What do you do? I am sure there are many of us who have been in such a situation. You almost want to dump your vehicle and walk to your destination or back to town. Woe unto you if your fuel gauge is reading close to empty, you may suffer from high blood pressure in the process. No wonder there’s a rise in road rage incidents.
Incidentally, this scenario highlights some of the costs that are directly and indirectly exerted on our economy by the traffic congestion.
First, as a country, we directly lose out on productivity by the wasted man-hours. I doubt that there are many of us who are able to channel our thoughts constructively while sitting in a noisy traffic jam. This would have been easier achieved at our work places.
Secondly, there are other direct and indirect costs such as increased levels of stress, additional wear and tear on our vehicles and environmental pollution which are equally important.
As a manufacturer, traffic congestion affects business by delaying transportation of our shipments. Essentially, this affects the ability of any manufacturer to produce goods on time and maintain desired customer satisfaction levels. This translates into a reduction in the bottom line.
But there are other salient issues which are no less important to the development of an economy. For example, it is very difficult for an emergency vehicle to travel from one end of town to the other, during peak traffic hours. This means that lives are exposed to greater risk, unnecessarily.
What about the revenue we lose when tourists (both domestic and foreign) keep away from town due to traffic concerns?
Obviously, quite a bit of opportunity is lost that could directly contribute to more rapid development of our economy. We need to quantify the opportunity cost to our businesses and economy. No doubt, the huge losses we incur would be a wake-up call.
The good thing with being a developing economy is that Kenya does not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to such issues. There are some great traffic management practices that are being implemented by the City Council in liaison with the Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry, but much can still be done.
When you look at major cities around the world, there are certain policies that restrict the flow of traffic into their central business districts in order to reduce parking demand. In Lagos for example, drivers are placed on number plate restrictions which determine the days which they can drive into the city. Of course, some Nigerian brothers have devised ways of beating such restrictions, but such is an example of what can be done.
In Nairobi, there are too many taxis taking up the majority of parking bays. My suggestion would be to assign a parking zone out of but in close proximity to the city and monitor the number of out-going taxis to match the number of taxis we allow into the city.
Ideally, the government should provide proper incentives that limit traffic from the city centre but that are also punitive enough to restrict those who drive into the CBD. In Northern California for example, the bridge tolls as one drives into San Francisco are rather pricy. But if you car-pool, you may not only drive on a specially-designated faster lane but you may also be exempt from paying the toll.
I applaud the measures that are being put into place but if the council shares their master plan, we may be able to make substantial contributions. With the expected increase in the number of vehicles, this traffic problem requires us to think out of the box to manage it. Are we ready to do so?