OPINIONPeople Daily

Nairobi can emulate Beijing to ease traffic jams

The incessant traffic jams in Nairobi, especially during rush hours—morning and evenings—is one of the biggest problems afflicting city residents.  

Traffic congestion is, however, not unique to Nairobi, with most major cities across the world grappling with the challenge. However, some metropolises are have found a way of addressing the problem to at least allow bearable movement of motorists at all times.

My stay in densely-populated Beijing in the last three weeks has me convinced that Nairobi traffic is manageable. From my own little research, I stumbled on two things that impressed me, and which I think Nairobi should emulate.

By 2010, Beijing, like most growing cities, was getting overwhelmed by unending traffic jams from the over the 4.5 million vehicles then, as the rising middle class continued to acquire vehicles. The city fathers had to find a solution and, in one swoop, they announced the limitation of number of vehicles registered each year and introduced a vehicle licence plate lottery system in 2011 to curb the growth rate of new automobiles.

This is how the system works. Each month a potential buyer enters his/her name is a lottery to stand a chance to get a purchase permit. Those who don’t win have to re-enter in subsequent months.

Also according to the regulations, applicants who have taken part in 24 or fewer rounds of the lottery will be given the lowest chance of success. Those who have participated in 25 to 36 rounds will be given twice the odds of success, and those who have taken part in 37 to 48 rounds will have triple the chances of winning. The odds continue to improve the longer a potential buyer goes without winning.

Furthermore, only drivers who are permanent residents of Beijing or immigrants who have paid taxes in the capital for more than five years are qualified to enter the lottery. Through this system, the number of new license plates available to registered drivers, currently handled through a monthly lottery, reduced from 150,000 last year to 100,000 this year.

According to statistics, there are over two million potential buyers who enter the lottery every month. Just imagine the number of vehicles that could be in Beijing if everyone had a chance of buying one!  

But how then do these millions of people move around the city since the only forms of public transport in Beijing are State –owned buses, taxis and trains? Technology and the plain landscape of the city provided a solution a few years ago. The grand evolution of bike sharing scheme provided a better option for more people to move conveniently around the city.

A bicycle-sharing scheme is a service in which automated bicycles and motor bikes owned by registered companies are made available for use on a short term basis for a price. The users simply download an app on their smartphones, which allows them to locate and unlock a nearby bike and ride anywhere in the city within 30 minutes range and pay some little amount using digital money transfer systems.

When the trip is completed, riders are encouraged to park at any public bike rack or public location that does not interfere with pedestrians or traffic. Beijing is littered with such bikes.

The city has designated bicycles lanes and everywhere in the city there is an almost equal number of bicycles and motorbikes as vehicles. Can Nairobi effectively emulate these two initiatives ? The jury is out. [email protected]

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