I would be the last person to speak up for matatus as I have had my fair share of grief from them just like most commuters. However, I believe that to single out matatus as the sole cause of the carnage on our roads is a cop-out and a knee-jerk reaction to coat over the inability to deal with traffic accidents.
Matatus are the weakest link to attack for obvious reasons. They are mostly unroadworthy, run by unruly crew and often driven at high speed. The misbehaviour by the industry is not of their own making either, if we are honest with ourselves.
There have been many institutions and individuals who have let the chaos fester for this long. The police are at the top of that list by turning a blind eye to the blatant disregard for traffic rules by matatus.
We are not honest, however, to single out matatus when bodaboda, individuals and even state officials break traffic rules with impunity.
Matatus have been a lifeline for millions of commuters. It is also an industry that has provided employment for thousands of young people, in particular, who otherwise would have ended up in crime. That is not something that can be scoffed at in a country with no proper commuter transport system.
We are just collectively condescending towards the industry because we are locked on the idea that it is fraught with criminality, when that is just a tiny challenge the sector faces. This kind of thinking permeates the policymaking forum and is injurious to the industry.
We must appreciate the positives matatus offer first before we condemn them.
I bet the industry needs reforms and that must come in an organised and compassionate manner for the industry and the commuters alike. Knee-jerk reactions like we recently witnessed only lead to misery more so to the poor who are heavily reliant on matatus to get from point A to B.
There have been reforms within the polices service but they do not appear to have made a dent in the bribery menace synonymous with the institution.
The chaos in the transport sector has thrived primarily due to the ineffectiveness of the police to deal with rogue elements and curb the culture of bribery.
Only recently, police were blamed for their part in the serious bus accident that occurred at Fort Ternan.
To date, we have heard no reassurance or what became of the officers implicated. Instead all the anger was directed at matatus. That is sheer evasiveness and insincerity in tackling the chaos on our roads.
Measures need to be put in place to fight bribery, which exacerbates impunity and undermines road safety.
Road traffic accidents have become a public health concern, given the number of deaths. The question to ask is whether the construction of our roads strictly adheres to safety standards to help minimise the impact of crashes and other forms of accidents.
Given the poor state of our roads, it is difficult to ascertain whether there were efforts made in considering safety first.
Potholes have become permanent features. Pavements have nothing to write home about. It is clear to see someone just stuck tiles with weak glue on the pavements and left. Perhaps well-built pavements could have helped many Kenyans to cycle or walk with safety.
The mangled wreckage of the bus that overturned at Fort Ternan just shows the poor workmanship in building the body and internal parts of buses and matatus.
It would be important now to consider a legal framework that would determine applicable safety standards in building bodies for all vehicles. If there are standards, we must now strictly enforce them.
Most of us never consider what role we can play in minimising traffic accidents when we get behind the wheel given the speed and chaotic way we drive. State officials are just as bad when they cut in and out of busy traffic with escorts in tow doing the same.
At times, they even drive on the wrong side of the road to justify their sense of importance. This is impunity and arrogance at their very best. Do we need these many ‘VIPs’ on the road?
I remember bumping into the Mayor of London, MPs and ministers every day heading to catch their trains like me and they were no less leaders for it. Most of us have a misplaced sense of importance behind the wheel that makes us disregard fellow motorists and pedestrians. We must change that attitude if we are serious about reducing accidents. Zebra crossings are not for zebras. They are there to keep pedestrians safe and most of us don’t give a hoot about road safety.
Matatus have become a challenge, indeed, crying out for reforms. With that we must change our attitude on the road, fight corruption in the police service and road construction. Crucially, the State must establish a better commuter transport network to reduce traffic accidents.