19 January 2010

Kenya: Failure to Reform Transport Sector Blamed on Officials

Analysts fear that commuter services will continue being held at ransom by matatu operators due to lack of political will to implement radical changes needed for a vibrant transport sector.

Mr Tiberius Barasa, an analyst with the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (Ipar), says that despite numerous reports detailing areas in the transport sector that need to be fixed, government officials are still reluctant to overhaul the system.

"There is lack of political will to improve the chaotic public transport system because some people are beneficiaries of the system," says Mr Barasa.Benefits from the chaotic system come in the form of extortion by criminal gangs and public officials, some of who also own public service vehicles (PSVs). Drivers of vehicles owned by the officials have been accused of operating in a carefree manner since they are less likely to be arrested.

This comes in the wake of a report by a taskforce charged with finding out what needs to be done to revive the transport sector, which suggests the barring police officers from owning matatus.

Treating symptoms

Mr Barasa says that such efforts are equivalent of treating symptoms and not the disease, adding that what urban areas need is a bus rapid transit system.

The Nairobi transport nightmare, for example, could be a thing of the past if flower and rock beds that separate lanes were replaced with bus lanes, according to a study.

A 2008 study dubbed Ways to Decongest Traffic and Modernise Nairobi Transportation System says that introduction of lanes to be used exclusively by buses would reduce traffic on roads. Results from this system would come in the form of increasing the speed of buses and reducing congestion.

The study says that the BRT enables transportation of over 150 passengers per trip, which is 10 times more than the average number of passengers a popular 14-seater matatu can ferry.

The Nairobi City Council (NCC) and the Nairobi Metropolitan ministry have proposed measures such as increasing parking fees to Sh500 from the current Sh140 per day, but the study says that such a move would yield little in alleviating the problem.

Cost saving

Cost saving is not enough, as an incentive, it must be accompanied by time saving.

"About 70 per cent of car users in Nairobi would change traffic mode if parking fees and fuel prices were increased by over 50 per cent," said the study.

"However, 30 per cent of the car users would not change even if parking fee was increased by 300 per cent or the fuel price increased by 100 per cent." The study found that 46 per cent of car users would opt for the new transport system if in addition to cutting costs it would be faster.

Kenya would also save Sh24 billion lost annually in traffic jams. The dedicated bus lanes would, however, have to be auctioned with the bid winner getting exclusive rights to the lanes.

This is similar to the system that was in place in the early 1960s to the 1980s, says Mr Barasa.

Under such a contract, the bidder includes estimated operating costs, overheads and profits when tendering. Any profits above the bid are given back to local authorities.

The clamour for passengers by operators is therefore eliminated.

The local transport authority's challenge then becomes making sure that the operator maintains quality control and does not engage in practices such as overcharging passengers.

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