Taxi operators in Meru County woke up to a terminus guarded by anti-riot police on Friday following a dispute with their matatu counterparts.
Tension was high in the town as the officers evicted taxi operators they said had been non-compliant and provided security for 14-seater matatu operators.
They used tear gas was used to disperse the taxi drivers.
This followed a seven-day ultimatum to police by matatu operators who demanded the removal of non-compliant transporters and threatened to down their tools from next Monday.
Mr Cyrus Riungu, a taxi driver at the Tuskys terminus, accused police of disregarding the law in getting rid of them.
“We have fully complied with all traffic rules. That is is why we were allowed to do business,” he said while displaying licenses issued by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).
“The police bosses did not engage us and we do not know which law we have broken. We were given the terminus by the county government. It is illegal to kick us out.”
However, North Imenti divisional police commander Peter Kimani explained that vehicles locked out of the terminus were licensed to operate as taxis but were being used as matatus.
“They have been ferrying passengers to as far as Tharaka-Nithi, which is against regulations. They should operate from taxi bays and carry one passengers to a specific point,” he said.
“We will deal with anyone who attempts to resist the enforcement of traffic rules.”
The OCPD reported that since the crackdown kicked off, 650 vehicles have been impounded and 675 drivers arraigned.
Fines amounting to Sh2.5 million have been paid, he added.
On Monday, officials of the Matatu Owners Association, led by Secretary Joseph Bundi accused the NTSA and police of creating unfair competition by allowing Toyota Probox and Sienta cars to operate.
Mr Bundi said that when Interior minister Fred Matiang’i ordered all compliance by all public service vehicles, matatu owners spent up to Sh400,000 to adhere to all requirements.
“Despite our efforts to engage the county commissioner, police commander, traffic police and the NTSA, non-compliant vehicles are still operating,” he said.
“Vehicles which should be operating as taxis are plying our routes, pushing us out of business. We have given the government until next Monday to remove these vehicles from the roads, failure to which we will withdraw our services.”
The secretary also spoke of a conflict of interest as police officers and county employees own vehicles that operate illegally.
“We are not against those operating as taxis as required by law. However, there are many vehicles allocated termini in various towns and ferrying passengers across the county. We want a level play ground,” he said.
Mr Paul Gitonga, the association’s vice chairman, warned that if law enforcers do not restore sanity, more than 1,000 matatus will be withdrawn from the roads and transport paralysed.
“How are we expected to compete with vehicles without comprehensive insurance covers, speed limiters and road service licences?” Mr Gitonga said.
“If the authorities do not listen to us, we will let non-compliant vehicles operate. No vehicle will leave Meru for Nairobi, Nanyuki, Isiolo and other destinations. We want to employ peaceful methods in addressing this matter.”
But the OCPD said they engaged the matatu owners and agreed on the abandonment of the strike plan.