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Traffic headache awaits City Hall chiefs after polls

Traffic jam in Nairobi. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG
Traffic jam in Nairobi. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG 

The team that wins Tuesday’s gubernatorial contest for Nairobi has its work cut out. And tackling the same old city congestion problem tops the list.

While the desire to implement the Mass Rapid Transit System in Nairobi predates the very concept of devolution that bred the 47 counties via the 2010 Constitution, it is one that the new City Hall leaders can ignore at their own peril.

The rapid transit system master plan which has been gathering dust at the City Hall seeks to decongest Nairobi traffic by moving key activities away from the central business district. The overall aim is to ease movement of people, vehicles and goods within and across the city.

According to the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra) study titled Nairobi Metropolitan Region Transportation Challenges, congestion in the city affects business delivery and pushes away potential investors.

The study shows that Nairobi loses about Sh20.7 billion annually because of its poorly performing intersections that raise the cost of operating vehicles, cause accidents and related medical bills for conditions arising from pollution.

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The congestion also costs Nairobians another Sh1.9 billion which the study says is lost every year in form of travel time costs.

“Nairobi alone also loses another Sh6.5 billion annually on illegal gangs and corrupt law enforcers. The total estimated system cost losses sum up to Sh29.1 billion a year.”

Last year, Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet secretary, James Macharia attributed the failure to implement the city’s rapid transit system to a lack of space for expansion.

He said due to poor planning Nairobi does not have dedicated lanes for buses but added that his ministry plans to adopt the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, to address issues concerning public transport.

Commuter rail and expansion of various roads in the city are among projects in the pipeline set to resolve the traffic menace.

Earlier, Nairobi governor Evans Kidero said the county was alive to the fact that the city’s congestion situation required immediate action “but a one-off quick fix will not deliver the results Kenyans deserve”.

He said traffic congestion in Nairobi was because its transport system, which has experienced exponential growth in vehicle population did not have a commensurate expansion of road infrastructure.

“The situation has been worsened by inadequate public transport system with the capacity to ferrying the growing number of commuters within the metropolitan area efficiently,” said Dr Kidero.

“The approach needs to be focused, consistent and systematic devoid of the fear to experiment, make mistakes and correct them.”

To ensure road safety, the Kippra study proposes regular vehicle inspections, strict maintenance procedures, comprehensive driver training and monitoring driver behaviour. It also calls for clear evacuation instructions and availability of protective equipment.

“There is a need for the continuous presence of uniformed security personnel at stations and on buses and close circuited cameras on board vehicles and at stations,” Kippra study said.

“Vehicle tracking systems on all public transit vehicles, emergency call boxes, customer and staff vigilance education is also paramount.”

Security inspections prior to boarding matatus are one that public service vehicles have adopted but it is still not applied consistently at all bus stations.

Kippra suggests that for an effective rapid transport system, capacity utilisation will go a long way in solving the city’s transportation challenge.

Private vehicles account for 64 per cent of the traffic volume, but only carry 22 per cent of the passengers using Nairobi roads, implying poor utilisation of existing transport infrastructure capacity.

The government elected in yesterday’s polls will, therefore, have to weigh options for promoting public transport through the bus rapid transit system.

While doing so, citizen engagement, international benchmarking, organisation and management is paramount, according to the Kippra study.

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