NAIROBI, June 3 – Commuters from Nairobi’s Eastland area were forced to trek to the city centre on Tuesday after matatus operators plying the route grounded their vehicles to protest what they termed as ‘unfair competition’.
Hundreds of Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) plying the route were parked at fuel stations and trading centres causing a major transport crisis.
The operators have been on a collision path with the government since the beginning of the year when they were ordered to relocate to a new terminus at Muthurwa, about two kilometres from the city centre.
Only a few transport companies were given access to the City, prompting outcry from other operators.
Vehicles operated by bus companies Kenya Bus, Double M and City Hoppa are among those that enjoy exclusive rights on the route.
On Tuesday, they resorted to grounding their vehicles to protest the move among other grievances, which they said affected their business adversely.
“This is unfair competition; the government should provide a level playing ground for all of us. That is why we have decided to ground our vehicles,” a Matatu operator in Buru Buru said.
No major incidents of violence were reported by mid-morning but police said they were on high alert to avert any possible confrontation.
There were reports of a few matatus stoned in Shauri Moyo and Maringo estates at about 7 am but no casualties were reported.
Police said those stoned were the ones which defied the strike and went on to ferry passengers to town.
“We are on high alert in case they (matatu operators) turn chaotic,” said Julius Ndegwa the Nairobi deputy Provincial Police chief.
Truck loads of anti-riot officers were seen parked at strategic positions in various parts of Eastland where police anticipated trouble.
Maina Muiruri, a matatu driver on route 58 said the government’s order to relocate them to the Muthurwa terminus had made business difficult.
“We are not making any profits because of the congestion at the terminus. We spend a lot of time queuing to wait for passengers at the terminus,” Muiruri said.
Jogoo Road that serves the Eastlands part of the city is considered one of the busiest routes in Nairobi.
The route serves Buru Buru, Umoja, Kayole, Komarock and Embakasi, which are among the densely populated city estates.
Matatu Owners Association (MOA) Chairman Simon Kimutai blamed the crisis on the government, which he accused of shunning dialogue that would solve the problem with finality.
He said the crisis may worsen if grievances raised by the operators are not addressed in time.
“The crisis may become even worse because the challenges the operators are facing need urgent intervention,” he told Capital News on telephone.
Other objections raised by the operators include a poor work environment as a result of dust at the terminus and insecurity.
They say many commuters avoid going to the terminus for fear of being attacked or robbed by muggers especially at night and in the early morning hours.