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)