Lessons from matatu crisis

January 6, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 6 – Kenya was once again reduced to a walking nation this week following a two-day matatu strike that paralysed public transport in most parts of the country.

The economy is estimated to have lost several billion shillings in the boycott that was organised to protest police harassment.

“The government should have done something before things got worse because this is really inconveniencing,” said one commuter who had to trek for many kilometers to get to work.

Some people have called for the government to set up a body to regulate and monitor the near Sh500 billion-industry, while others have called for the sacking of senior police officers in the traffic department.

However, others argue that the only way for Kenya to once and for all address the mess in the industry and in a holistic manner, is to have a comprehensive public transport policy framework.

Acting Head of Infrastructure and Economic Services Division at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) Eric Aligula told Capital News that the issues in the sector such as the recent matatu strike and the endless traffic jams are signs of a dysfunctional transport system that can only be dealt with using an effective legislative framework.

“We need a new system. From our perspective this is just a symptom we will deal with today but if we don’t change the system, six months or a year from now we will be back to square one,” he said adding that “the key question that citizens need to be asking is; ‘where is Kenya’s Public Transport Policy’ because that will clarify the role of the private sector, it will clarify the role of the public sector so that the passing of the buck would sort of disappear.”

An Integrated National Transport Policy which proposes reforms to address the reorganisation of the transport sector was drafted in 2004 and is yet to receive Cabinet approval.

Mr Aligula’s comments came a day after a two day matatu strike that paralysed public transport in many parts of the country and led to a loss of several billions of shillings to the economy.

The government has in the past come under fire for seemingly leaving the vital sector in the hands of the unruly matatu men. However many stakeholders maintain that transport is a public good and as such the public sector should be involved in one way or the other in the running of the sector.

“As much as the government recognises the role of private sector in managing transportation, it cannot abscond the duty of ensuring that Kenyans go to work and they are able to move in this country freely,” argued an agri-business expert Peter Kegode.

Mr Aligula concurred and added that while he supports the view that the government is a facilitator, the public sector should play a more active role in the development and enforcement of rules and regulations in the sector.

“National Transport Policy is a function of the Ministry of Transport which is supposed to develop and lead the operationalisation of the policy,” he said while defending the ministry against accusations of being indifferent.

The expert cautioned that the improvement of infrastructure, which the government has been undertaking in many parts of the country, would not be enough to resolve the issues completely thus the need for the coherent policy.

“The experience of transport planning is that no matter how many roads you build traffic congestion always catches up with you so it has to be an intervention where you build roads to serve a transport system that you have designed such that the roads are part of that system,” he explained.

Mr Aligula said chaos in the matatu industry could further be solved by consolidating the matatus business within the city into one or two organised operators where it would be easier to enforce laws and standards.

Such a model could be borrowed from other countries which have successfully moved to a more organised system where the existing operators pool their resources together and invest in a new transport company which professionally runs the business on their behalf.

The phasing out of 14 seater-matatus is also a step that has to be taken and replaced with larger capacity vehicles that can move more people.

“It is not about vehicles now, it’s about movement. How many people can you move? The more people you can move in your system, the more efficient it is,” he said.

The argument that this would render many young people jobless does not hold water since the same people would be absorbed in an organised system and make more money than in the cut-throat competitive business.

In such a broader policy framework that would also involve other modes of transport, the government would however have to offer incentives to such individuals to ensure a smooth transition.

Mr Aligula reckoned that if such a regime was to be implemented, it would take about Sh40 billion over a four year- period and in less than four years the transport problems would be completely eliminated.

If the country has an effective and efficient system, it would save the country billions of shillings lost in lost productivity, unconsumed fuel, time wasted on the road, wear and tear on vehicles, health effects of its pollution and the general aggravation of the whole system.

KIPPRA’s 2005 estimates showed that the economy loses Sh30billion per year in Nairobi alone due to the poor transport system.


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