Nairobi is ranked the sixth most congested city in the world based on global traffic indices that evaluate commute times, carbon emissions and overall inefficiencies of the traffic system.
The report indicates that the average commute time is 58 minutes with high inefficiencies resulting from an increase in personal motor vehicle use and a poor public transport system. Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that the country registers approximately 8,000 new vehicles a month, a volume that cannot be sustained in the long term as evidenced by the current congestion levels.
A study by the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) estimates that 40 percent of trips in Nairobi are made by foot, 41 percent are by bus and personal vehicles account for only 13 percent.
While most commuters rely on walking or public transport, infrastructure spending has continued to focus on building wider roads to serve the growing number of vehicles. Nairobi has expanded most of its roads based on the long-term development blueprint of Vision 2030. One of the flagship projects, the Nairobi- Thika Highway, brought temporary relief. Yet today, peak hour traffic is back to a standstill.
Experience from around the world shows that urban highways are ill-suited to solve the pressing mobility issues we face. Instead of more urban highways, Nairobi needs high-quality public transport, safe spaces for walking and cycling and compact, well-planned neighbourhoods.
It is imperative that decision-makers evaluate other sustainable alternatives that can ease congestion. Nairobi lacks a quality public transport system and the inefficiency caused by matatus, has prompted more and more commuters to opt for private cars.
The introduction of a high-quality public transport system presents an opportunity that will cater to a majority of the residents and reduce the use of private vehicles.
The city also needs a comprehensive network of walkways and cycle paths. Streets need wide footpaths and crossings with traffic calming measures to ensure that vehicles travel at safe speeds. Green spaces such as Uhuru Park provide beautiful urban connections and can serve as an integral part of the walking and cycling network.
With many residents opting to walk in the central business district especially during rush hours due to the ever-increasing number of hours spent in traffic, having a conducive walking environment would encourage more people to walk and cycle. These are, after all, healthier and more efficient alternatives.
While some of the city’s residents argue that their commute is too long to either walk or cycle, non-motorised transport offers conducive first mile, last mile connectivity that is sure to reduce the rampant private vehicle use in the central business district especially if coupled with efficient mass transit.
An efficient public transport system to date remains the one true way to initiate the shift from personal vehicle use to public transport. This is only possible if public transport is of good quality and is dependable.
To achieve this, Nairobi can learn from other developing cities that managed to contain congestion such as Bogota, Columbia and Ahmedabad, India which by prioritising public transport, walking and cycling, have eased commutes for residents thereby improving congestion and air quality.
Kenya can also learn from its neighbours Tanzania and Rwanda, who have managed to implement quality, efficient and reliable mass public transport systems with reduced waiting times of five to ten minutes and fixed fares.
The public transport system is run by bus operators under contracts from respective governments who ensure that the required standard of quality is adhered to.
Nairobi can also implement other low-cost strategies outlined in the Nairobi integrated Masterplan such as relocating long-distance buses terminals away from the central business district (CBD), development of sub-terminals in the sub-urban areas that could ease the congestion in the central business district and ferry passengers without getting into the CBD and development of a more efficient and strategic terminal in the central business district.
Carolyne Mimano via email.