, NAIROBI, Kenya Dec 19 – A majority of matatu operators on Monday ignored calls to suspend operations for ten days and went ahead to ferry passengers to various destinations countrywide for the Christmas festivities.
Only a handful of operators in Nairobi and Mombasa withdrew their Passenger Service Vehicles (PSVs) in line with the strike called by the Matatu Welfare Association, Matatu Drivers and Conductors Association, Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers Union and the Juakali Association of Kenya demanding a reduction in oil prices by at least 30 per cent.
In the capital Nairobi, Services at the Country Bus Station continued undeterred despite the strike calls with passengers flocking the terminus as many of them made their way up country for the festive season.
“The calls for a strike are unwarranted and badly timed as this is our peak season,” said Mike Kamau, a bus operator.
The strike has the backing of Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary-General Francis Atwoli who has vowed to mobilize Kenyans to put pressure on the government to address the high cost of living and reduce oil prices.
“We are pleading with the government to look into the rising cost of living so that it can loosen the hold it has had on most Kenyans. Why should we go on strike and disrupt the lives of our clients, who are the commuters?” asked one of the operators.
While they took issue with the high fuel prices, they said there were better ways of addressing the issue.
“Why can’t Atwoli call for a strike mid next month when business is low and he can still make a statement if that’s what he wants,” posed another operator.
Some matatu operators kept off the road in Nairobi for fear of violence. In Kawangware, matatus that tried to carry passengers to town were stoned by angry conductors.
In some areas, police were forced to provide security for the few matatu and other public service vehicles crews that defied the call to strike.
Alternative transport providers such as boda boda operators, Citi Hopper and Kenya Bus Services cashed in on the strike, while the Rift Valley Railway Company was an alternative for areas that are served by its city commuter train services.
Joseph Kinyua, an insurance agent who had spent an hour at the bus terminus said, “It looks like its going to be a bad Christmas, because there are no vehicles and the ones that are operating are overcharging us.”
“The motorcycle operators are charging us sh300, to the CBD, but you have to weigh whether it’s worth it, because you don’t know how you will get back home. So the only option is to walk to the City Centre,” Joyce Okoth, an office assistant told Capital News after walking from Upper Hill some 5.3 km from the City Centre.
Commuters from Ngong were forced to part with between Sh80 and Sh120 up from the usual Sh40 while those from Kabete paid between Sh100 and Sh60 up from the normal Sh30.
Commuters from Umoja were charged between Sh100 and Sh80 up from the usual Sh60 during the morning rush hour.
Fares in areas like Buruburu remained unchanged with route operators defying the call to strike.
Meanwhile Public Service Vehicles in the larger Nyanza region as well as Meru County also ignored the strike.
Those operating from the busy Kisumu bus terminus continued working without any hitches with vehicles heading to Siaya, Busia, Kakamega, Kisii and Nairobi all ferrying passengers.
However a spot check by Capital Newsbeat revealed that the lakeside residents woke up early fearing delays that could be occasioned by the planned strike.
It was also business as usual for PSV operators in Meru County with the Meru Matatu Association saying it would not participate in the mass action.
Although the strike in Mombasa failed to effectively materialize, matatu operators opted to stay away from the roads in fear of attack from their colleagues.
Passengers traveling to various parts of the city were stranded while others opted to walk long distances as the matatu operators declined to offer their services.
Matatu operators in Kitale who reported to work as usual complained of poor business as passengers shied away from travelling fearing disruptions.
“It’s sad that we have reported to work as usual and passengers have decided to go on strike,” said John Washira, a matatu operator on the Bungoma route.