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Fixing city transport

You know how people hate Mondays? I don’t. Not anymore. I now look forward to Monday mornings as another opportunity to ride my bike. It’s the same for Tuesday morning and every other morning of the week. I shouldn’t say that I get immense satisfaction when I pass dreary-eyed motorists stuck in traffic, wasting precious time going nowhere, but I do.

Once in a while, I come across a proper petrolhead in a proper car. Sometimes it’s something expensive like a blacked-out Mercedes AMG, or it may cheap and cheerful, like a cool Datsun.

Whatever it is, and whatever it costs, you can bet the person hates traffic more than those in a white Toyota Fielder or a silver Nissan Wingroad, because more than anything else, they love to drive.

Closer home, trying to fix congestion while allowing a free for all buying spree is like trying to empty a lake with a teaspoon, in a rainstorm. It’s impossible to build roads or parking lots fast enough to accommodate the cars companies can build in a day.

Last year, over 71 million cars were built and companies are only gearing up for increased sales in emerging vehicle markets such as China and of course, Africa. But, even car companies are aware this can’t last forever and already reinventing themselves as mobility companies.

Mercedes and BMW are motoring’s oldest rivals but, in March 2018, they set plans to combine and expand upon a collection of mobility services that includes ride-sharing and high-tech parking services in over 1,000 cities around the world. Toyota announced in their AGM as well that they, too, are expecting a shared mobility future.

The reason is simple; not everyone should have their own car. The mindless debacle endured last year by migrating Nairobians when the county government barred public service vehicles from the CBD is a prime example of what happens when one prioritises private over public transport.

At best, one car has two passengers and takes up at least 1,300 square feet of road. Line-up three cars bumper to bumper and that’s six people taking up enough space for a 60-seater bus.

What the county government should have done is to ban private cars from the CBD and streamline the operation of PSVs. This would have got people out of their expensive-to-fuel and nuisance-to-park private cars and into cheaper, more efficient public transport alternatives.

Most people want cheap, reliable and efficient cars and the reason they are on their phones is that they haven’t the slightest interest nor appreciation for driving or cars.

As a result, the car in question is always a front-wheel-drive automatic that will allow them to Instagram the lunch they just had as they drive. They tremble in terror when presented with the prospect of driving a manual transmission and most have no clue what type of engine lurks underneath.

These are the people who should not have cars. A petrolhead loves driving and will get the most exciting car they can get their hands on, usually something turbo-charged and four-wheel drive. They will then proceed to enhance its performance and aesthetic appeal and once the essential bills like rent and electricity are paid, the rest goes to buying high-octane fuel and replacing worn parts.

Which wear quickly because they drive so much. A petrolhead at the wheel is more interested in traction, corner entry, and rev matching than tweeting. Unfortunately, because everyone feels entitled to a car, the petrolhead sits brooding, motionless in a sea of generic characterless cars.

On the whole, we don’t need an especially complicated solution as the framework for an efficient system is already in place. The BRT is a great idea and we don’t even need to get buses. Just have the matatu Saccos continue plying their routes.

They have internal fleet management systems, which can easily be coordinated into a countywide system. The proposed ban of 14-seaters is half-baked as some routes simply don’t have the commuter numbers to justify even a minibus, and after rush hour, you’ll have fleets of half-empty buses competing for a handful of commuters.

Most importantly, make driving more expensive. Hike the price of petrol and parking. Introduce a CBD access fee. Most people with cars will choose cheaper public transport, leaving the streets for people who actually enjoy driving.

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