OPINIONPeople Daily

Knee-jerk reactions won’t ease Nairobi congestion

Sabina Akoth

I will turn Uhuru Park into a Bus Terminus!’ This sad statement was uttered by then Nairobi governor aspirant Mike Sonko at a campaign rally last year. He had arrived for the event 20 minutes late for a TV interview, ostensibly due the city’s heavy traffic.

Sonko’s statement was part of his 10-point manifesto for the city. To add salt to injury, he promised to build four main park and ride stations that would serve private motorists at the four major exists —Thika, Mombasa and Ngong roads and Waiyaki Way. He also promised to construct multi-storey and sunken car parks to ease the congestion in the central business district.

Well, he did get elected but the promises are exactly what they were then—empty. At worst, they only confirm he did not have a plan for the traffic menace then and he still does not have one today.

His Monday decision to ban public service vehicles from entering the CBD has been praised and criticised in equal measure. Those who had to walk the extra mile to their destinations condemned it more strongly than those chauffeured into the city centre. 

The city was chaotic, to say the least, with most roads turned into parking lots by massive daylong traffic snarl-ups.

It would be value adding to know the reasons behind such knee-jerk decisions. Better yet, it is necessary that we learn from cities and countries that have successfully operated bus termini.

Bus termini play an important role in inter and intra-city movement. Beyond being an entry and exit point for vehicles, the termini also serve as centres for documentation of movement, information, concentration and dispersal of passengers and an integrated system for various modes of transport. It is, therefore, necessary that they are user-friendly for both motorists and passengers. 

There are four basic aspects that must be considered in the planning of bus termini. There must be a need that is commensurate with the demand. This need is subsequently bulwarked by safe, comfortable and accessible services.

Traffic flow

The second criteria is the location of the terminus which should be a point of coordination and integration between varied modes of transport. The location should also be at a point that makes concentration and dispersals affordable.

The size of the terminus also matters as it determines the flow of traffic while a good design enables the equitable sharing of space and costs between motorists and pedestrians.

Such organisation makes it easier to monitor and evaluate successes and challenges of particular terminus. One is able to know how many matatus can be handled  by a particular terminus on a daily basis, the average waiting time, how long passengers take to alight and board and even who should pay parking fees and who shouldn’t.

We are, however, taking lightly the issue of strategic planning especially for critical sectors such as inter and intra-city transport. The hours wasted on the road and the pent-up anger they elicit do little to flourish our economy. If anything, they breed a tired and demotivated workforce.

Walking from Muthurwa to Railways or to Ngara may look easy on paper. Commuters and matatu owners are desperate for solutions to ease traffic woes.

At best, the county should be orderly enough to bring sanity to the industry. It should not be a privilege for a passenger to access clean toilets while waiting for a bus.

Also, commuters should feel safe at the termini at any time of the day. Our bus termini should also accommodate those using other forms of transport with spaces and facilities for parking bicycles and motorcycles. Most important, they should be a place of peaceful transit from homes to the various destinations. 

Sonko, therefore, may need to relook his strategy to decongest the city. His approach should work for all stakeholders. – Writer comments on development issues

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