The government’s plan to decongest Nairobi by locking private vehicles out of the city centre is a recipe for chaos. According to the directive, from February 1, vehicles will not enter the central business district on Wednesdays and Saturdays for the piloting of the much-talked about bus rapid transport (BRT) system. The intention may be noble but execution plan awful.
Arguably, the plan has not been thought through and is being hurried and done without consultation. Experimenting with the proposed public transport does not mean that all systems come to a standstill — not at the expense of the economy and security.
The Transport ministry has not provided options to the private motorists, who drive to town for lack of a choice. The capital city does not have an organised public transport system and nobody provides security for vehicles parked in open spaces. Indeed, if public parking in the town centre is unsafe, what about those in the outposts being suggested, such as Uhuru Park?
Nairobi’s traffic congestion is legendary. It is a consequence of many factors and tackling it requires a careful and methodical approach. Top on the list is the fact the city does not have an organised mass transit system. Until the 1990s, when Kenya Bus Service and government-run Nyayo Bus Service collapsed, the city has never operated an organised public transport system. Instead, the service has been left to private providers, whose greatest preoccupation is making profit at all costs. They never follow the rule book and respect no authority.
Creating order in this mess is desirable but must be done properly. Only a few weeks ago, Nairobi came to a standstill when Governor Mike Sonko attempted to block public service vehicles from entering the city centre but without providing workable alternatives. Clearly, the lesson is that seeking alternatives to decongesting the city does not mean proffering simplistic solutions; they cannot work.
Matters are made worse when the plan allows hawkers to come into the city during the week and ply their trade, when we know they are chaotic, unruly and often hide crooks and thugs in their midst. Not to mention the fact that most of them hardly pay taxes or contribute to the public coffers in any way.
We take note that Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and his team have been pushing for transformation of public transport in the city, which is laudable. But they must do the right thing.
Introducing car-free days is not the solution. The directive should be reversed to avoid another round of chaos in the city.