Nairobi was turned into a 'walking' city on Thursday as a crippling strike by Public Service Vehicles (PSV) in protest against punitive fines turned messy. Chaos was reported in sections of the city such as Kangemi where matatu crews blocked the Nairobi-Nakuru highway and stoned motorists who tried to make their way through.
In the city centre, PSVs were parked in the middle of the road making parts of Moi Avenue, City Hall Way and Tom Mboya Street inaccessible to other users. The PSV crews were protesting against new traffic rules that imposed heavy penalties for offenders.
The area around Kencom bus stop and Ambassadeur hotel was literally turned into parking lots for a better part of the day. Stranded passengers told Capital FM News that they had been waiting for transport from as early as 11am.
Angela Nguta was in Nairobi seeking for a school loan from HELB but her plans to travel back to her home in Mwea were halted. "I had come to HELB. I wanted to go back to Mwea but I cannot... there are no vehicles. I have been waiting for a vehicle from 11am hoping to get one but none that is going there," she complained at Tea Room.
Maureen and her sick sister were in town to visit their mother who is admitted to the Kenyatta National Hospital, they were stranded for many hours at the Kencom bus stop.
"We were going to see our mother in hospital, but we can't walk there because my sister has a problem with her leg. Now we cannot even see our mum and she is there on her own," another passenger said.
Another disgruntled passenger lashed out at PSV drivers and conductors. She could not understand how being forced to adhere to traffic rules would make them paralyse public transport in the country.
"Are they (drivers and conductors) making us suffer because of refusing to follow traffic rules? They have to follow laws, they cannot refuse to follow laws and then make us suffer like this," she complained.
However, what remained of concern to many Kenyans is why the police allowed the drivers and conductors to break traffic rules by obstructing public roads.
Nairobi residents resorted to Twitter to give updates on the matatu strike. Some of the tweets indicated that the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway, Thika Road, Ngong Road and Rongai were seriously affected.
Some matatus and motorbikes that carried passengers were attacked.
"Kangemi is a no-go zone for touts and matatu operators have shut the Nairobi-Nakuru highway and they are attacking any vehicle that threatens to be in business. Avoid Landhies Road, Haile Selassie Avenue, Race Course, Ronald Ngala and Thika Road which have been closed by angry mobs," some of the tweets warned.
"The general traffic chaos has spread. Reports indicate that matatus on Thika Road have joined the strike. There was indications that some matatus have been damaged at Githurai by protesters who wanted to force them to join the general strike. Protesting operators had torched two motorbikes, one at Karen and another one on racecourse," another alert from Nairobi Crime Quarterly indicated.
Despite the confusion, PSV drivers and conductors vowed not to resume services until the high fines are reduced.
However, the police warned the striking matatu operators that they will not entertain disruption of public transport.
Nairobi Provincial Police Officer Moses Nyakwama told Capital FM News that 50 drivers and conductors had been arrested in Nairobi and would be in court on Friday to answer to charges of robbery.
"We are going to charge them with nothing else but charges of robbery. We have arrested people from Ongata Rongai, Kasarani, Kilimani, Langata and Kamukunji, they will be going to court tomorrow," he asserted.
He told them if they wanted to strike, they should not park their vehicles on public streets. "The roads remain open to all Kenyans. But those who are striking should look for elsewhere to park their vehicles. There has been a problem, we have few vehicles on the road, but the problem is that you cannot force someone to take his or her car to the road. But I can tell you we will deal with any people blocking the roads," he warned.
The Traffic Amendment Act 2012 provides stiffer penalties for offenders and introduces other regulations to curb road accidents caused by human error.
According to the law, drink driving will attract 10 years in jail or a fine of Sh500,000 or even both.
Motorists who drive on pavements or pedestrian walkways will be jailed for three months or a fine of Sh30,000 or both.
Reckless and dangerous driving will attract a Sh100,000 fine or two years in jail, for first offender.
The new laws also stipulate that all drivers of public service vehicles and commercial vehicles will be required to undergo physical fitness, eye and hearing testing after every three years to qualify for a renewal of their driving licenses.