Fix the public transport urgently to make life more bearable for Kenyans

Various public service vehicles wait in line. FILE PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

On Thursday, I came across a social media post from a friend wondering what the Energy Petroleum and Regulatory Authority was waiting for. It did not hit me immediately what such a cryptic post was about until another friend pointed out later that evening that fuel prices had been increased by around Sh16 for petrol and Sh33 for kerosene. It was only then that I realised the importance of the earlier post.

The response from Kenyans and the leadership points to a disconnect between the expectations of citizens and that of those in charge of public policy.

The sudden rise immediately led to hikes in transportation costs and will trickle into the cost of almost all basic commodities. Life that was already hard will become more unbearable.

The one public policy question that immediately came to my mind is public transport. Both Kenya Bus Services and the National Youth Service had buses that were plying the roads of Nairobi in my youth.

One could easily commute within the town from one place to another. The collapse of these has led to an increase in private transportation.

As we discuss the implementation of the Africa Climate Summit declaration, the question of accelerating our action and reducing our carbon footprints is one of the strategies we must consider.

This requires action to decarbonise the transport industry. It partly explains why William President Ruto drove to KICC in an electric vehicle.

As measures are put in place to popularise the use of these in place of diesel- and petrol-powered vehicles, we need to accompany this with fixing our public transport system.

With the current prices of fuel and the warning by political leaders on both sides of the divide that the increasing costs may be with us for some months, it is necessary to look at alternative policy solutions.

The urgency of function and a reliable public transport system is one such solution. It will help reduce the penchant for private cars in the country. In the developed world, the main form of transportation is public, both through rail and road.

The prices of cars and of fuel are making it impossible for Kenyans, both poor and rich to contribute to national development.

I have had conversations with administrative staff in both public and private sectors who increasingly cannot afford to travel to work for all 24 days in a month.

With the new fuel prices, the situation is bound to get worse. This reduces productivity and increases stress, leading to mental health challenges.

Introducing a bus rapid transit system in Kenya cannot continue being an idea and debate any longer. It must be actualised urgently.

In addition, the government must recognise that matatu industry cannot continue being the primary public transport system in the country. We need to roll out both rail and road public transport that is cost-effective and efficient, both for economic and climate response reasons.

The writer is a law professor at the University of Nairobi.

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