Public transport in Nairobi and its environs has been a subject of immense debate for several years.
Unfortunately, the debate has not yielded concrete results.
Under the National Coalition Government of 2008-2013 and even before devolution and creation of counties, a full-fledged ministry had been established, called Nairobi Metropolitan, whose responsibility included developing a synchronised public transport system to enhance free flow of traffic within the city and neighbouring districts.
Then, as now, the rationale was that free traffic movement is a prerequisite to fast economic growth through enhanced movement of goods and people.
As a regional hub and host to major international organisations, including the United Nations, the city’s competitive advantage can only be sustained and enhanced if the profile is complemented with proper infrastructure and systems that allow easy movement.
Statistics about the metropolitan gives vital insights.
Nairobi and adjoining counties contribute an estimated 60 per cent of the income to the national economy through trade, transactions and labour productivity.
Nairobi itself has a population of 3.2 million by night and additional two million that work and do business during the day, bringing the total to five million.
Neighbouring counties of Machakos, Kajiado, Kiambu and Murang’a add two million. Cumulatively, the metropolitan is home to seven million.
Against this background, the government last week announced the establishment of Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, whose objective is to develop an efficient, seamless and sustainable transport system for the region.
Buttressing this is transformation of public transport to spur economic growth.
But it is inconceivable how this will be done, given the unedifying past experience.
An efficient public transport requires an overhaul and expansion of existing infrastructure, including rail network.
For example, Mombasa Road, a major artery that leads to the region’s busiest airport and connects the city to the Coast, requires a Marshall Plan to turn it into an efficient transit route, including a storeyed road system. But the challenge is resources.
Second is provision and maintenance of public service vehicles. Experience of the Kenya Bus Service and, later, Nyayo Bus Services, both which collapsed in the early 1990s due to mismanagement and unfair competition by matatus, is illustrative.
A new orientation is required for managing the city’s public transport.
Third, the public transport is chaotic due to poor management. A new outfit would deal with roguish matatu operators and lawlessness on the roads and ensure the safety of all road users.
Nairobi metropolitan transport system is an idea whose time has come with a big proviso: it needs heavy investment to succeed.
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