Shipping & Logistics

Bus firms hit rocky road as Covid restrictions bite

modern

Modern Coast bus. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The night travel ban, restrictions to carry half capacity to allow social distance, and stiff competition from the SGR have driven many bus companies offroad.
  • According to Inter County Bus Owners Association chairperson Abubakari Twalib, more than half of the 41 registered bus companies under his lobby have suspended their operations.

The restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 since March last year have adversely affected passenger bus industry, forcing a majority to ground vehicles while others are shifting to nearby countries.

The night travel ban, restrictions to carry half capacity to allow social distance, and stiff competition from the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) have driven many bus companies offroad.

According to Inter County Bus Owners Association chairperson Abubakari Twalib, more than half of the 41 registered bus companies under his lobby have suspended their operations while some have opted to move to Tanzania and Uganda where there’s favourable working conditions. This has left thousands jobless.

“Modern Coast Bus Company which operates in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda led by grounding 150 buses end of June followed by several bus companies including Mombasa Raha and some have already given notice to its clients expressing their intentions to shut down their operations this month,” said Mr Twalib.

“Some companies such as Tahmeed though they are operating with few buses, have opted to relocate to nearby countries where business operating conditions are a bit favourable.”

With the 10pm-4am curfew imposed on March 27, 2020 still in place, no buses ply the Mombasa-Nairobi route or any other across Kenya leaving the SGR train as the only means of transport at night after the government exempted it from curfew rules.

With night operations exemption and full capacity carriage maintained at SGR, bus companies are experiencing huge loses as they are required to carry only 22 passengers to maintain social distance rule in the bus.

“I was a driver in one of the buses in Mombasa but I was relieved from my job after the company reduced its fleet from 12 to four.. we could not break even due to high diesel prices and carrying half capacity,” said John Barisa, one of the drivers in Mombasa.

Despite incurring huge loses, high cost of operation including insurance premiums where bus companies are required to pay for the 44 passengers cover amounting to more than Sh1.8 million for comprehensive cover.

Modern Coast Bus Company, one of the longest serving bus fims, and Mombasa Raha Bus Company have now shifted to offer courier services to remain afloat.

In an earlier interview, Modern Coast chief executive Harun Butt said they decided to park their buses due to high cost of operation and they will only resume operations when the government allows a 100 percent passengers on board since its costly to sustain the business.

60PC CAPACITY

"The recommended 60 percent passengers carrying capacity is not favouring us. We will proceed with courier services until the government adjusts to full board in number of passengers allowed per trip. We will be making losses if we operate with those numbers," said Butt.

Mombasa Raha bus company manager Joseph Kyengo said they opted to stay out of the passenger services because of the high cost of transport and the low number of commuters.

"We will not resume because of the 60 percent passengers’ directive. A passenger must pay over Sh2,000 to sustain the fuel and other expenses. This does not attract travellers any more forcing them to opt other alternative means such as SGR which charges only Sh1,000," said Mr Kyengo.

He also called on NTSA to control the rising number of private cars ferrying passengers to Nairobi. "Some unlicensed private cars, more so Toyota Noah, are interrupting our business as they illegally carry passengers to Nairobi without proper documentation," said Mr Kyengo.

The bus owners also asked the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) to restore sanity in the sector by allowing only vehicles with relevant documents to carry passengers, noting that there are motorists illegally operating from Mombasa to different parts of the country.

Night travel ban has since worked for the SGR as it is set to boost passenger numbers for SGR this year, with 2020 usage having been disrupted by the pandemic.

About 720,000 passengers used the train in 2020, down from 1.59 million in 2019, according to the Kenya Railways.