Chinese firm Stecol Corporation has secured a Sh5.6 billion deal to start construction of special lanes for high-capacity buses through the Nairobi city centre and Thika highway next month.
The company last week bagged the multi-billion shilling contract to build the long-awaited Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which is expected to support the city’s rickety public commuter services and help ease traffic congestion
The project will comprise more than 100 buses operating on dedicated lanes on the Thika highway through the Nairobi city centre to the Kenyatta National Hospital (KHN) area.
“We signed the contract last week and the contractor is mobilising to commence next month for the first phase covering the corridor from Clayworks to Haile Selassie and then to Kenyatta National Hospital. That should be done after eight months,” Housing and Urban Development Principal Secretary Charles Hinga told the Business Daily.
The Chinese firm will begin by demarcating sections of Thika highway to be remodelled to accommodate support facilities such as of boarding stations and footbridges.
A park-and- ride facility is planned for construction at Kasarani to allow commuters heading to the city centre to leave their vehicles and transfer to a mass transport bus for the remainder of the journey. The existing footbridges on the busy highway will guide the placement of the initial stations for the BRT system.
Mr Hinga said the new mass transport project would involve dedicating the two innermost lanes of the highway to special high-capacity buses and erecting boarding ramps to ease access to the buses.
The buses will be run by private operators but regulated by the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (NaMATA).
Francis Gitau, the chief executive of NaMATA, said the mass transport project will engage 100 buses in the initial phase before scaling up operations progressively.
“We have done all the necessary studies and engaged all the stakeholders with national outlook, including matatu associations, on the plan which will now give them a chance to be major players through an operation company which will be contracted to run the services.
“What we want is a reliable and efficient mass transit system that will attract even those using private vehicles to use,” Mr Gitau said.
The move to allow private operators to buy the buses is said to have been adopted after the government ran into budget constraints that will see it pull out of the planned importation of high-capacity buses from South Africa.
Mr Gitau said some financiers had expressed interest in funding those interested in purchasing the buses, easing NaMATA’s burden of providing capital for the project.
The government had initially planned to source 32 complete buses from South Africa and another 32 chassis for assembly locally for deployment on an already- demarcated lane on Thika highway and other major roads within Nairobi.
Parliamentarians, however, questioned the rationale of importing the buses without putting in place supportive infrastructure that was still at a design stage.
The BRT system is generally designed to improve a city’s public transport network relative to conventional buses.
Each bus is expected to have a capacity of about 160 passengers who will use electronic cards for payment at the stations also to be fitted with Wi-Fi and coffee shops.
A city of about 4.4 million people, according to the last population census, Nairobi until now has had only a haphazard transport system, based on mostly private 14- and 32-seater matatus.
This has resulted in pain and chaos for millions of commuters amid traffic grid-locks on key roads and highways.
The World Bank estimates that Nairobi residents on average spend an hour to travel to work and another 60 minutes commuting back home due to traffic congestion.