Street decongestion needs serious effort

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BY BENSON OKWARO

Before any attempt is made to decongest Nairobi streets and other Kenyan towns, a few factors have to be taken into account. It is not right to blame matatu operators wholly for the congestion on the roads that could have been avoided if the policy makers and planners were visionaries.

In particular  the  existing Nairobi streets  were designed for fewer  vehicles at the  time  of their construction and the  post-independence leadership ought to have anticipated  the   growth of the  city’s population  as well as vehicle numbers. Unfortunately some of these problems have not been priorities in the development plans for sometime now.  Road network design with bypasses, flyovers, office blocks with ample underground parking lots should have been part of the solution to present day street congestion.

It is not too late for the improvement on the existing infrastructure and an attempt  to keep mini buses off the  Nairobi Central Business District  (CBD) is a welcome  move but which must be executed  with a  lot of caution to avoid politicisation.

Although the proposal is a good idea, mini bus operators feel that the intention is malicious and discriminatory. That to some extent could be true  but something  has to be done about  the  congestion in the city for the benefit  of employers  and  employees  who bear  the brunt  of traffic  snarl ups in terms of man-hour losses  and decline in production and  performance.

Unless a cash strapped  worker  wakes up  too early to  trek  to  a work place  or  catch  a  dawn  bus to the office,   the  poor  employee  will arrive many hours  late due to  perennial traffic jams. For the commuter operators, it is the time makes a kill, same for fuel dealers. Fares   double or sometimes triple in peak hours on the pretext that  fewer trips  are made.

The employer is another victim. The yet to be quantified man hour losses  due to lateness affects  production  and as a  result  commodity prices have to soar  to make  up  for the  shortfall targets. Employers reluctantly increase wages in work places where lateness is chronic.

In the  meantime, the  ministry of Transport should  do  everything  within its power   to  zone  areas of  passenger vehicle  operations in the   city and its periphery by ensuring  that  workers or business  communities are  not inconvenienced. For instance,  the  ministry should  adopt the  circular route  method  already in  operation in  route  9 and 6  in  Nairobi  as a pilot  decongestion strategy.

Parking  bays on the  streets is  another  traffic problem that should be  discontinued only when  the  city fathers  and the government introduce  high speed trains  in the  CBD.

Since traffic congestion  is a combination  of factors, the government  should move  with speed  to address the problem  which will meet the  approval  of the  trade union fraternity, employers, passengers  and the  general public, the latter being  victims  of the exhaust   fumes from the  slow moving  vehicular traffic.

It is  in this regard therefore, that  an all inclusive  conference of stakeholders  should be convened  to thrash out   details  on the  decongestion  without inflicting harm  on the transport industry  and inconveniencing  commuters.

The proposed conference should and must include passenger vehicle operators, Federation of Kenya Employers, COTU, Ministries of Transport, Labour, Roads, Environment and Planning and other  stakeholders.

(The author  is the  general secretary of the Communications  Workers   Union)

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