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Matatu a godsend, banning them from CBD lack of farsightedness



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Three things are a godsend to Kenya — wildlife, the weather and matatus. The matatus carry 90 percent of commuters on barely 20 percent of the road space allocated to them against private cars.

Please give the matatu — particularly the 14-seaters — a break! I have lived and done business in the US, Canada and the UK and can attest that, despite their expensive and sophisticated transport systems, Kenya’s matatus can beat them anytime in efficiency despite shocking infrastructure and lack of government support.

Matatus keep the country on the move. In the past five years, my staff, thanks to matatus, have been 95 percent on time at work.

Once our car broke down at the escarpment (20 miles from Nairobi) on the way to Kisumu, at 10am on a Sunday.

We had to send the driver back to Nairobi to get another car.

But he had to first go to Kileleshwa, east of Nairobi, to get the keys and then westside to Muthaiga, where the vehicle was. In fact, he returned one-and-a-half hours later.

Now look at the lopsided sharing of road space.

Suppose in a church, mosque or temple the main 5,000 square-foot prayer hall is for a handful of 200 privileged leaders and 1,000 ordinary members are packed like sardines in a tiddly 250sq ft foyer.

And then, this privileged class has the audacity to curse the ordinary members for making noise or obstructing their path!

Whereas the focus should be on this gross disparity, the media instead focus on shortcomings of matatus — most of which are a result of that.

In Canada, high-occupancy vehicles are given priority and accorded special lanes. In central districts, where the streets cannot cope with a high volume of traffic, cars are banned.

In Kenya, it seems to be the other way round: I was shocked to see a sign in the city centre prohibiting matatus.

If we had proper passenger pickup and drop-off stations, buses and matatus would not have to struggle all the time to swerve, change lanes and hoot.

Terrible infrastructure, improper traffic management and policing are just a few of the contributory factors; attend to them first.

On overloading, one has to experience it in places such as London, where both underground (subways) and buses are packed during the peak hours for lack of funds to widen streets or add tunnels.

Even in the developed countries, until recently, seatbelts were not made mandatory and there are several states in the US where they still aren’t.

Fatal accidents that are blamed on lack of safety belts and speed governors can be avoided by focusing more on drink-driving, vehicle inspection, et CETEc.

It is amazing that, as if the government officers do not have their hands full with other, more pressing things, they should waste their valuable time by ‘nit-picking’ on seatbelts, paintwork and speed governors!

If the traffic was policed without corruption, 70 percent of matatu problems would automatically be resolved.

The cost of speed governors on top of police salaries is like having a lazy watchdog then bringing in another to monitor it.