Nairobi is the second most congested city in Africa and the fourth in the world with several reports showing that the traffic congestion cost an estimated Sh100 billion annually in lost productivity.
The heavy traffic does not only cause pollution, it also leads to reduced productivity due to hours wasted on the road with Nairobi residents taking an average of 57 minutes to travel in the city.
This results in Kenya losing an estimated Sh50 million a day due to time wasted on the road, according to a 2012 IBM research.
Over the years, traffic congestion has worsened in the city and the situation has been blamed on a rapid increase in car ownership and use.
Contrary to popular belief that traffic congestion is due to public service vehicles, the bulk of the gridlock is caused by private motorists who shun alternative modes of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport and stick to personal vehicles even over short distances.
To put this into perspective, a 2017 research by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra) titled Nairobi Metropolitan Region Transportation Challenges revealed that despite private vehicles accounting for 64 percent of the traffic volume in Nairobi, they only carry 22 percent of the passengers using Nairobi roads.
But a 2007 report by the Ministry of Roads and Public Works was even more damning indicating that although only 15.3 percent of commuters in Nairobi use private cars, they account for 36 percent of vehicles in the capital city roads compared to 29 percent of commuters using matatus who account for only 27 percent of vehicles on the roads.
Subsequently, City Hall and the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) have laid out an elaborate plan to suppress the availability of on-street parking as part of a strategy to reduce the number of private cars competing for the 12,000 parking slots in the city centre.
The two entities target to have a congestion-free city in which pedestrians have safe walkways and public transport is seamlessly connected in a manner that ensures private cars are unnecessary in most parts of the city.
Top of the plan is to come up with a pricing strategy in the medium term which will suppress demand for on-street parking as it will make it more expensive to park in the city.
The other strategy is to invest in building four main park and ride stations to serve private motorists who use Thika Road, Mombasa Road, Ngong and Waiyaki Way so that motorists do not have to get to the city centre with their cars.
Further, on-street parking will be removed and multi-storey and sunken car parks introduced in their place. This will be coupled with rolling out of non-motorised transport (NMT) corridors, further eating into on-street parking spaces.
Phase one of the project, which is part of the Nairobi Urban Mobility Plan, follows the Nairobi River from Donholm all the way to Westlands through Eastlands so that people can walk or cycle into the city centre, Industrial Area and Westlands.
The second phase joins phase one at the city centre and goes to Lang'ata via Nairobi Central Railway station while phase three is from the city centre to Roysambu through Ngara.
NMS has already begun implementing the NMT strategy in the city centre which has seen most of the on-street parking slots that had dotted the streets replaced with cabros to create pedestrian and cycling lanes.
Kenyatta Avenue, Wabera and Muindi Mbingu streets are now dotted with cabros acting as pedestrian and cycling paths.
Kenyatta Avenue NMT will be connected to the new Ngong Road which already has the same corridor. The other side of Kenyatta Avenue will be linked to Moi Avenue which will further connect to Railway Station where construction of both cycle and footpaths is already at the roundabout of Haile Selassie and Moi Avenue.
On Haile Selassie Avenue, the NMT will connect to Jogoo Road through Landhies Road with Jogoo Road already having NMT that terminates at the roundabout near City Stadium.
For the terminus in Ngara, already construction of an NMT from Fig Tree, connecting the terminus to Race Course Road then to the city centre has already begun.
A report by the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) in 2004 indicated that non-motorised transport is still the dominant mode in Nairobi accounting for over 40 percent of the total trips made per day.
The survey showed that out of 4.82 million trips made per day to Nairobi, 2.32 million trips were made by walking and bicycles.
Interestingly, 64 percent of all the trips originating from Eastland along the Jogoo Road corridor and terminating in the Industrial Area and the city centre were made by walking and by cycling, giving some indications on the order of magnitude of the importance of NMT in Nairobi.
NMS director for roads and transport Michael Ochieng explained that the NMT will offer safe walking and cycling space for residents who would want to walk from the termini in the city centre outskirts as they will be linked to the station being constructed on the outskirts of the city centre.
“The new cycling and footpaths are being provided to link those termini to the city centre. If you go to Green Park, it will be linked with the paths covered with a shade through Uhuru Highway into town,” said Mr Ochieng.
The NMS, led by Lieutenant General Mohamed Badi, is putting up six termini out of the city centre as part of the capital’s decongestion strategy.
They include Desai and Park Road termini in Ngara for all matatus currently using Tea Room and Accra Road plying Thika Superhighway and long-distance matatus from Mt Kenya.
Muthurwa-Ladhies terminus for matatus plying the Jogoo and Lusaka Roads routes and the Fig Tree terminus for matatus using Waiyaki Way and Green Park terminal serving as a drop-off and pick-up point for matatus plying the Ngong and Lang’ata routes.
Then there is another terminal located between Bunyala and Workshop Road for matatus plying Mombasa Road, South B, South C, Industrial Area, Imara Daima, Athi River, Kitengela and Machakos routes.
In terms of pricing strategy, City Hall announced last month that it is drafting a parking policy that will see motorists charged hourly for parking in Nairobi.
According to the policy, motorists will be charged between Sh75 and Sh100 every hour for parking within the Nairobi city centre, a departure from daily parking charges.
Currently, motorists are charged a flat rate daily on-street parking fee of Sh200 in the city centre.
This is meant to make the most of the highly competitive slots while easing traffic congestion.
One will part with Sh90 for every hour for on-street parking slots south of Kenyatta Avenue and west of Moi Avenue — areas described as the most sought-after by motorists.
For parking in other areas apart from the two prime spots, an hourly parking fee of Sh75 will be charged. Currently, motorists are charged a flat rate daily on-street parking fee of Sh200 in the city centre.
Parking in hubs outside the city centre will cost Sh50 every hour, with the other areas attracting a charge of Sh40 an hour.
One will also pay Sh100 for parking on off-street spaces, attractive for the relative safety of vehicles from theft and vandalism.
The policy also roots for the removal of season tickets option for parking in the city centre and offer the same outside the city centre at Sh6,000 per month.
It will also see the regulation of parking in mixed areas with high traffic volumes (apart from the highways that pass or cross these areas) and high demand areas (hubs).
The areas include Upper Hill, Community, Westlands, Yaya Centre, Eastleigh, Karen, Gigiri, Ngara, and Hurlingham.
“In these areas, regulation is needed to guarantee urban quality and to provide chances of sustainable means of transport,” says the policy document.
In the regulated areas, the price will reflect the demand and to what extent the supply can meet the demand.
“In the regulated areas, parking on public spaces has a price. The price is higher, the longer the parking duration,” says the policy document.
Driving out even taxis that private motorists could opt to use as an alternative, the policy is rooting for the provision of tailor-made solutions for parking for taxis by reducing the number of taxis being idle in the city centre and providing taxi ranks.
Further, specific areas for parking of “official” vehicles will be defined by City Hall while for loading or unloading bays, they will be designated close to commercial premises.
In 2018, the defunct Nairobi Regeneration Committee failed in a plan to make every Wednesday and Saturday car-free days in the Central Business District (CBD) and Westlands.
This would have seen private car owners in Nairobi required to leave behind their cars during the two days and use public transport as part of plans to decongest the city.
The ambitious proposal by Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary Mr James Macharia — who was part of the committee — aborted before it could even see the light of the day.
In terms of the introduction of multi-storey and sunken car parks, Mr Badi said they had earmarked Machakos Country Bus for conversion into an underground multi-storey parking area where motorists will be charged hourly for parking. The project will also see underground parking developed at Sunken Park.
He said the move is part of a bigger plan to integrate an hourly parking regime in Nairobi where the national government agency intends to convert a number of parking areas in the capital into underground parking bays.