Urban expansion, especially for cities, demands efficient, reliable and safe public transport system that is conducive for robust economic growth. Affordable, efficient and dependable public transport service is a ‘game changer’ in unlocking growth potentials of metropolitan cities, especially by enhancing competitiveness. Transport services contribute immensely to the overall growth of economies.
This is why countries build adequate capacity in the ports with appropriate linkages between railway and road network.
Therefore, the decision to have National Youth Service (NYS) operate buses on designated routes considered to have inadequate urban transport services in Nairobi is well-thought-out and indeed laudable.
However, we need to ask why the urban transport services that have been in place in the past flopped and what can be done to ensure charges are adequate, efficient, reliable and cost-effective.
The entry of NYS buses needs to trigger a policy change in the urban transport management. Over the past, commuters have raised concern on a range of issues including time schedules, reliability and passenger harassment.
However, unless the National and County governments take the adequate operational, regulatory and technological measures to improve intra-and-interurban public transport system, it is not possible to achieve meaningful growth.
Studies show Kenyan urban centres have become dysfunctional mainly due to inadequate or lack of policies. Urban transport in Kenya is characterised by congestion, pollution, insecurity, reckless driving, lack of infrastructure (parking, shelters and dropping points) and exclusive lanes for public transport.
Automobile operators in Nairobi and other urban centres drive carelessly regardless of the rules, conventions and standards. Road planners too have bothered less to create exclusive lanes for pedestrians and two-wheelers.
These problems coupled with immunity for impunity have created havoc. Commuters and the general public using public transport have no time schedule, routes and frequency of vehicles plying given routes.
The poor transport services can be improved if the ‘cartels’ who thrive on the dysfunctional system are routed out. Routing them out is not easy. For a start, let the Nairobi County government designate places where commuters are dropped and taken to avoid traffic jams.
Commuters in urban centres need a variety of urban transport services to serve divergent preferences. The launch of the NYS services will not only increase the fleets but also lead to addressing issues of concern.
The County and National governments need to establish a seamless urban public transport by investing in infrastructure like bypasses, ring roads, bus bays, intersections and footpaths.
Meeting the increasing demands require large investments on roads, railways, ports and civil aviation sectors to augment capacities and modernisation, which require heavy investment.
Therefore, there is need to supplement public investment with private sector investments through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to ensure efficient, affordable and dependable urban public transport services in our cities.
This will reduce the need for people to use personal modes of transport and boosts public transport system, increase more employment, enhance productivity and thereby create a 24-hour economy.
Urban centres play an important role in promoting growth and prosperity but cities can only develop if they have adequate physical infrastructure. The writer is People Daily business reporter