Posh Nairobians wrong on Expressway

Vehicles driving along the Nairobi Expressway as it cuts through Westlands area as pictured on May 14, 2022. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

The “highway for the rich”, also known as Nairobi Expressway, has finally been opened for motorists’ use. The posh and serious Nairobians are mesmerised by the views of Nairobi buildings from the upper-deck road and the convenience of avoiding traffic jam.

Social media has been splashed with photos and videos of the Expressway, with many comparing it with roads in Dubai.

Some are now telling me how wrong we have been about this project, and they forecast that it will break even in the shortest time because it offers convenience of avoiding traffic, which they say many Kenyans will pay for.

This is not surprising at all; the posh and serious Kenyans have been consistent in their worldview. It reminds me of this unforgettable moment in 2020 when the Covid-19 lockdown happened.

A guy on Twitter confidently argued that the government should consider using an online food delivery company like Jumia to distribute food to the poor in Nairobi because they already have the logistics capacity to deliver. So, when it comes to infrastructure appraisal, I expect them to come up with all manner of analysis.

Two facts the posh and serious Nairobians are oblivious of is that 60 percent of people who live in Nairobi walk to work, whilst 35 percent use public transport, which is matatus in this case, and only five percent of them use cars.

Second, for someone who will use the Expressway every day coming to work, they will spend an estimated Sh14,000 every month, and that is not a cost affordable to all the five percent of Nairobians who use cars.

One important fact that is always lost in such conversations is that the biggest share of cars on the roads are government-owned.

This sentiment about the Expressway reminds me of when the standard gauge railway commuter train service was launched, and all the pseudo-analysts came out saying how the commuter rail will make a lot of money and drive buses plying the Nairobi-Mombasa route out of business.

Now, if we are to look at the current status, buses plying that route have in fact increased, and commuter service brings only around 20 percent of SGR revenues, which the government had to subsidise for a long period of time to make it affordable. Freight service is the raker of SGR revenue, bringing in close to 80 percent.

Much has been said about the economics of this Expressway, which I won’t delve into. I will just reiterate that this highway for the rich is an expensive public-private partnership experiment and its results will be bad for Kenyans.

Two things after the launch of this Expressway have been of concern to me. First, the operator has only provided for cash or electronic card as the only payment methods.

M-Pesa is not accepted because it will be creating congestion at the tolling booths. This is confusing because the operator is already issuing pre-paid cards to motorists, so if it is collecting the fee at the toll booth, what is the prepaid card for? Or is the operator saying that it’s impossible to load the pre-paid card via M-Pesa?

Second is the report that the contractor who built the Expressway is the one who won the Sh9 billion tender to rehabilitate the lower section of the 27km double-decker road. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport is quoted saying that it made sense for the contractor who did the Expressway to be the one who rehabilitate the old road.

Clearly, there is a judgement problem at the Ministry of Transport because it’s obvious that there is a glaring conflict of interest problem here.

It is in the business interest of the contractor who built the Expressway to have maximum traffic on it, so giving him the tender to rehabilitate the old road that competes with his business interest is surely not the wise decision if indeed the ministry is committed to rehabilitating the old road.

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