Nairobi — The matatu industry in Nairobi is set for major changes with the announcement that the common 14-seaters will be phased out.
Transport minister Amos Kimunya told a meeting of industry players there would be no registration of the 14-seater matatus starting January next year.
Instead, the current route operators will be encouraged to form societies through which they can buy and run bigger buses, which carry upwards of 25 passengers.
Both the Matatu Owners Association (MOA) and the Matatu Welfare Association (MWA) welcomed the decision as being in the right direction but needed the right kind of support from the government.
"We are fully in support of the idea. The ministry has been speaking with us the stakeholders and we think it's the right way to go," said Mr Simon Kimutai, who heads the owners' association, said after the minister's announcement on Tuesday.
Mr Dickson Mbugua, who heads the welfare association, was more cautious in his support of the move, which has been in the pipeline for some time.
"It is a good programme, but it needs the proper support from the government. There has to be time to transform," he said.
The move, according to Mr Mbugua, would need to be complemented by "soft credit facilities" driven by the government to enable both the societies and individuals to access cheap loans to purchase the bigger vehicles.
But matatu crews who spoke to the Nation at the Khoja Mosque roundabout said they would suffer the most as they would lose jobs once the small matatus were eventually removed from the city centre.
"Two months is a very short notice. Some of the matatus on the routes are new and the owners are yet to pay back the loans they took to buy them," said Mr Joseph Njihia, a matatu driver. It costs an average Sh1.2 million to buy an imported used van and it normally took between 18 and 24 months for the owner to recoup the amount.
Other matatu crews said they would eventually lose their jobs since the buses would need less manpower and carry more passengers than the matatus.
City routes are considered the most lucrative because they are short, most of the roads are good and the morning and evening rush hours guarantee good returns.
The government's move is line with the Integrated National Transport Policy, which outlines the intention to eventually remove the 14-seater matatus from the city centre.
The policy has been approved by the Cabinet but is yet to be taken to Parliament for approval setting the stage for full implementation by the Transport ministry.
The Matatu Welfare Association estimates that there are 15,000 matatus on about 50 routes in Nairobi, and about 80 per cent of them -- 12,000 -- are the ubiquitous 14-seaters.
Overall, there are about 80,000 registered Public Service Vehicles in Kenya, with 60 per cent of these -- 48,000 -- operating in urban centres. Mr Mbugua said it would take about six years for the 14-seaters to naturally phase themselves out of Nairobi.
The routes that are likely to suffer once the programme is implemented are Kikuyu, Kawangware, Lang'ata, Madaraka, South B and C, Mwiki, Highridge, Githurai 44, Dandora, Baba Dogo, Westlands, Kiambu, Banana, Industrial Area and Embakasi.