Transport Principal Secretary Charles Hinga Mwaura is currently leading a delegation to South Africa on a mission to follow up on plans to acquire Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) buses that are expected in the country any time from today.
This is despite lingering questions on the implementation of the mass transit system in Nairobi. Of the five corridors identified, it is only Thika Road that has a dedicated lane for the BRT buses and which has been clearly marked.
According to a map plan, this corridor, referred to as Simba, and which runs from Bomas of Kenya to Ruiru on Thika Road, will have a dedicated lane along Lang’ata Road, Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway, and University Way, which joins Murang’a Road and finally Thika Road.
The proposed BRT system runs on five corridors: Tembo Line (Kangemi-Imara), Simba (Bomas-Ruiru on Thika Superhighway), Chui (Njiru-Showground), Kifaru (Mama Lucy-T-Mall) and Nyati (Balozi-Imara).
According to the Infrastructure secretary, who is also the chief executive officer of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (NAMATA), Mr Francis Gitau, the corridors will be implemented in phases: “Currently a master implementation plan is being developed, and that will inform the investment plan. Mostly prudent investment is demand-driven, the corridor service affects the entire metropolitan region and its impacts extends to all counties and beyond.”
The system comprises an ordinary road with exclusive lanes on the inner or outer lane for the articulated buses depending on the needs of the population. In the case of Kenyan system, these lanes are in the middle. During an interview, Mr Gitau said mass rapid transit is a continually evolving system, guided by demand, policy and the public.
“The system is a composite of infrastructure with facilities like park-and-ride and installations for management of the operations provided through an intelligent system,” he said. He added that the middle lane is the preferred configuration under the design framework as opposed to kerbside service.
“This minimises friction with other traffic and offers a high-quality service. The intention is to have the buses run on a dedicated lane because the exclusivity ensures a reliable, rapid service with enhanced mobility,” he said.
He did not disclose the overall implementation cost of the project, which not only involves the buying of buses and dedicating lanes but also integrating it with the existing public transport system.
“The first phase improvements on Thika Road is being competitively procured by the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA),” he said. The Kenyan system is expected to cost at least Sh100 billion for it to be fully operational according to the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).
Though there are no known stages along Thika Road or zebra crossings and tunnels to facilitate road crossing for pedestrians after they alight from the buses, 10 stations will be constructed in the coming days, said Mr Gitau.
These are Kenyatta University, Kahawa Barracks, Githurai Clayworks, Kasarani Roysambu, Safari Park Garden City, which is being constructed, Kenya School of Monetary Studies (under construction) Utalii/National Youth Service, Muthaiga and Ngara. The stages will be modified to accommodate the BRT, he said, and added that three new footbridges will be built along the BRT.
Other characteristics of the BRT system will be pick-up booths in the median. The Ministry of Transport will also funnel roads and both pedestrian and vehicular traffic to accommodate the BRT infrastructure and ensure safety of all road users.
There will be three park-and-ride facilities and, with time, the red lines which demarcate the bus routes will be physically separated according to the plan. Mr Gitau said transfer stations will be constructed at Ruiru, Githurai and Kasarani to ensure a smooth flow of traffic at the junctions and accesses while the BRT infrastructure will be branded upon completion of engineering work.
Apart from the marked lanes on Thika Road and the expected BRT buses, there are no other visible works on the implementation of the project. The ticketing will be cashless in a system where passengers are supposed to pay before boarding, said Mr Gitau.
The first 64 high-capacity buses for the pilot stage are being shipped here from South Africa and should arrive soon.
Late last year, buses that had been manufactured by Isuzu East Africa were stopped from operating over what City Hall said were “design concerns”.
City Hall said the buses had not met the specifications set out by the Ministry of Transport and NAMATA. This is notwithstanding the fact that Tanzania imported her BRT buses from Kenya last year.
The Tanzanian government hired Labh Singh Harnam Singh (LSHS) to build high-capacity buses. Isuzu Motors was contracted to build 80-person capacity buses for use under the programme.
Mr Gitau, however, insisted that the specifications for a BRT bus are not met locally at the moment.
“In April last year, the government requested local assemblies to provide the buses but they were not available. However, the local assembly and manufacturers are working to meet the specifications,” he said.
“To ensure the implementation is calibrated, a pilot phase will include 64 high-capacity buses to provide the initial learning capacity, including the upstream training of drivers, depot managers and operators,” he said.
He said that the reason they picked South Africa is that the buses were ready after a municipality had ordered them but was unable pick them up due to unspecified challenges.
“The stock is available immediately. It is noted this opportunity can reduce the lead procurement, which may be in excess of nine months. The untenable state of public transport requires action. The process is within the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act,” he said.
Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko is also said to be in London on a fact-finding mission about the same project, raising eyebrows about its coordination and implementation.
The BRT system is touted as being able to decongest the CBD and solve the transport crisis in the city by increasing reliability, easing transport woes, reducing travel time and air pollution as well as improving the quality of life.
A majority of stakeholders are still apprehensive about the system, with past attempts to decongest the city having amounted to nought. On a number of occasions, the government has taken unpopular measures to reduce traffic congestion in the CBD.