Dents that ail public transport in Nairobi By Ken Ogembo


Four months since Railways bus terminus became my drop off here in the CBD. One noticeable aspect was the dents on public transport vehicles at the stage, which can only be associated to either inadequate transport policy or failure in the implementation.

Almost 85% of the public vehicles using the stage have dents and it’s a miracle that they are able to move. Most of the vehicles are in deplorable condition.

Over time, on my daily commute, I have observed the presence of at least two police officers at the stage, including Sundays, but this does not change the chaos unfolding in front of your eyes, obstruction and competition to leave the stage has allowed me to understand the dents that appear on these vehicles. And every day the policemen stand there, they are to maintain the law but one wonders whether for them maintaining law and order is not part of their job description.

Compounding the problem further was an incident where a driver just knocked the other in front of a police officer and nothing happened. Neither the drivers of the two vehicles nor the police talked about it as the police officer walked away smiling. From the look on his face, it was a normal thing. As the vehicles leave the station while approaching the roundabout just before they join Haile Selassie Avenue, a person normally boards, and in many instances as the vehicle moves, they’re given money and immediately alight before the vehicle moves too far. It concerned me who the person could have been and why the conductors gave money without any difficulty hence the reason I had to inquire. I would ask the driver every time I got the opportunity to seat next to the drivers who the people were. Their response were too proverbial as they were either called the agents of city owners or the stage owners.

Finally, through persistence with the drivers, I came to understand that they were agents of either the city council or the police for protection. One of the drivers added that there was no way a vehicle could operate without being loyal to the agents but refused to indulge more on the same.
Another peculiar norm at the stage is the removable side-mirrors. If you are keen, one will notice that some of the vehicles would remove their mirrors in the struggle to leave the stage and return them when it is clear. Additionally, hiking of bus fare at will is often evident. There is a culture of people asking how much they would be charged which for me was strange until I had to learn the hard way. In three occasions, I had to pay up to Ksh 100 for Kibra that is normally Ksh 50 during peak hours.

Boarding the moving vehicles is the art at the stage, it is learned, and an accepted offence that police are never bothered about. The public are forced to board the vehicles while they are moving without consideration of the risks involved. What if one misses the step and falls? What about people living with disabilities?

Thus my reflection on several attempts by the county government to bring order in the city. For instance, the recent order by the county to block public vehicles from accessing the CBD. What was the basis and were the stakeholders involved in coming up with the decision as provided for in the constitution?

My question led me to ask a few people who have been in the city longer than me if they had ever been involved in such decisions and they were equally surprised that I didn’t understand how the county made decisions. My next stop was the County website to look for either data or statistics or expert advice on how they arrived at the decision and nothing was available. A violation of Article 35 of the constitution that requires government to provide information to the public

Seeming to be a welcomed problem but how could the county administrators correct a major problem like traffic with agents collecting money from the same matatu for protection while the same police own matatus as was recently alluded to by President Uhuru Kenyatta?

And from nowhere, a new rule of car free days starting February 1st 2019 was announced with majority of stakeholders asking how they came about the decision and still there was no consultation or if there was then it was selective public consultation. Siasa Place conducted a twitter poll just a day after the announcement, asking if people in Nairobi would support the decision and 66% said no. The decision may succeed if the county takes note of what they had ignored in the past or the decision may as well form part of a statistic of failed decisions.

The county requires good will in their approach of public engagement where the public are truly involved. They further have to invest in working with experts in the sector otherwise they will make the same mistake repeatedly, with no result for any of the decisions they proposed.

Written by Ken Ogembo
Program Manager at Siasa Place

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Siasa Place is an NGO formed 2015 that aims to create an enabling environment for women and youth mainstreaming into our body politics.

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