Some owners and managers of passenger bus companies in Mombasa are not celebrating the Sh327 billion Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project just yet as they contemplate the effects the mega infrastructure will have on their businesses.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who commissioned the project Wednesday, announced a Sh700 promotional fare for the train's economy class - a move that has elicited mixed reactions from some transport sector players.
Kenya Railways had initially announced a Sh900 charge for economy class and Sh3,000 for first class, with business class fares to be announced later in the year when the service is rolled out.
Bus companies plying the Nairobi-Mombasa route charge between Sh900 and Sh2200 fare between Mombasa and the Kenyan capital.
The stakeholders now say that the government should have consulted them first before slapping them with low fares that could potentially kill their businesses.
Mombasa Raha and Buscar director Abubakar Said says they were surprised when Mr Kenyatta announced the low fares to transport commuters along the lucrative route.
“The president should have considered us because we have invested heavily in the transport sector. It will really affect us, we will definitely run out of business. The president's price (Sh700) is very cheap,” he said.
Mr Said reckons that the new passenger trains should compete with road transporters at the service level and not on lowering of prices.
The transporters also say that the project was rushed without putting up proper infrastructure such as a road network connecting Mombasa's central business district and the Miritini SGR station.
Another bus company owner says the government should have also addressed de-congestion of the road network between Mombasa Island and surrounding locales to make it easier for commuters to reach the station.
“The congestion along Kibarani towards Miritini SGR station is unbearable. If I live in Bamburi, I have to leave my house five hours before,” said the proprietor who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation.
“How did the previous rail services collapse? What happened to JamboJet when they couldn’t sustain the cheap price? There are no systems in place, it is pure politics,” he added.
Other players, however, say they do not fear disruption as the project will have no effect on their businesses.
“It will only affect us in the first three months. Otherwise their plans won’t work unless they change the fares. We have our market,” said the manager of a bus company based in Mwembe Tayari, Mombasa County.
“Let us assume each bus carries 40 passengers, that is 800. Meaning not all of the 800 passengers will travel with the SGR. They won’t get the profit. There is a lot of hullabaloo about SGR but with fare they won’t sustain,” he added.
The general manager of Mash East Africa - which operate Scania-branded buses along the route - is also waiting to see what effects the launch of an alternative means will have on the sector.
“It is a situation of wait and see. As passenger transporters, we have to wait and see the repercussions. We cannot predict what will happen to us,” said Mr Lenox Shallo.
"They have to get shuttles to transport passengers from Miritini to the CBD and same applies to Nairobi. There is a lot of logistics involved. We can’t tell whether we are going to reduce the fares or maintain them," he added, noting that the road transport business affords travellers flexibility and convenience unlike trains which operate using rigid timings.