Motorists to buy digital number plates at Sh3,700

National Transport and Safety Authority director-general Francis Meja. PHOTO | FILE
National Transport and Safety Authority director-general Francis Meja. PHOTO | FILE 

Kenyan motorists will pay the government more than Sh6 billion to acquire new high-tech vehicle number plates expected to replace the current ones in the coming months.

Each owner of a car, a bus, a lorry or a pick-up will pay Sh3,700 for the new plates that come with a microchip that can be read remotely, while motorcyclists and trailer owners will pay Sh1,500, according to newly gazetted rules.

Kenya has 2.2 million vehicles on its roads — including motorcycles and trailers — translating to about Sh6.2 billion new number plate acquisition fees.

Francis Meja, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) director-general, said the vehicle owners will be required to gradually replace their number plates.

“We will give people a time frame within which to make the transition. We will tell people that within this period (one or two years), they will have to change their number plates,” said Mr Meja.

The agency must, however, await the court’s decision on a legal suit filed by one of the losing bidders for the contract to supply the new plates.

Mr Meja said replacement of the number plates will begin as soon as the multibillion shilling suit pitting Ugandan firm MIG International against Tropical Technologies, the current supplier of number plates, is completed.

MIG International was awarded the Sh2 billion number plate supply deal alongside Germany’s Hoffman International. But the Public Procurement Administrative and Review Board (PPARB) annulled the tender following an appeal by Tropical Technologies.

Newly gazetted regulations by Transport secretary James Macharia will require each vehicle to have a front and rear plate besides a third licence — a sticker placed on the windscreen of a vehicle bearing information on the ownership for technical inspection, tax and insurance validation, among others.

A radio frequency identification (RFID) microchip will be embedded on the sticker to facilitate wireless transfer of information between it and mobile police readers or at traffic lights.

Mr Meja said the third number plate — a sticker on the windscreen — is necessary for purposes of validation in the event that the front and rear plates are changed or covered in mud.

The sticker, which will have a lifespan of up to 10 years, cannot be removed without destroying it.

“In future, we want to synchronise that chip with traffic lights so that an electronic reader can note the details of a vehicle and submit it for violation of traffic offences like jumping lights,” Mr Meja said.

“Besides, if Kenya decides to go the way of tolling for use of highways, that (microchip) will also have ability to facilitate that.”

Microchip-coated vehicle number plates have been used in other countries to find stolen vehicles.

Official data indicates that by the end of 2014, Kenya had 1.3 million vehicles comprising cars, buses, lorries and pick-ups; 853,000 motor and auto cycles; and 42,000 trailers.

The number of vehicles is currently growing at about 200,000 per year with motorcycles accounting for slightly more than half of that.

More middle class Kenyans have been importing second-hand cars as they seek alternatives to the country’s chaotic public transport system. Motorcycles have also filled the public transport gaps for short-distance and low-income commuters in urban and rural areas, helping swell the number of newly registered cars every year.

Imported vehicles are fitted with number plates at the port of entry, meaning all vehicles shipped in after the enforcement of the new rules begin will not incur the replacement cost.

Kenya Auto Bazaar Association secretary general Charles Munyori described the charge as minimal and unlikely to affect their businesses even as he insisted that the government provide ample time for car owners to comply.

Kenya Revenue Authority insiders, however, said the transition to new number plates is also expected to help the government clean up its vehicle database through fresh verification of ownership, including personal details such as the owner’s contacts.

Mr Macharia’s gazettement of new number plate regulations comes on the heels of separate regulations by the NTSA that seek to charge motorists between Sh2,600 and Sh3,900 for vehicle inspection every year, highlighting the burden the new regulations are piling on vehicle owners.

Kenya last year increased by Sh3 the road maintenance levy that previously stood at Sh9 for every litre of petrol or diesel consumed. In December, the excise duty on diesel increased from Sh8.24 per litre to Sh10.3 per litre.

Motorists are also set to feel the pinch in September when fuel prices are set to increase by 16 per cent with the introduction of the value added tax.

The new rules include the option for motorists with unregistered vehicles to apply for a preferred registration number. This is only for the three numerical digits, for example 777, at a higher cost of Sh30,000 up from the current Sh10,000 charged for the service.

The NTSA made public the planned change of motor vehicle number plates in September 2014 with an implementation date of March 2016.

But the plan has since run into strong headwinds, including legal battles between vendors.

The high-tech plates were to be launched alongside digital driving licences, a project that has also stalled in the wake of legal battles among vendors.

The smart driving licences are expected to carry personal identification numbers, contacts, past traffic offences, fines previously paid and warnings, and police officers will have devices to read the information and add charge sheets to databases as necessary.