Current measures in place to deal with traffic gridlocks in Nairobi and other key urban areas which render mobility a nightmare clearly serve to underscore one point—we tend to resort to painkillers to deal with symptoms instead of treating causes of illness.
Despite Nairobi being among the top 10 metropolises with the most agonising commuter travel experience and traffic gridlocks, the authorities have been lethargic in implementing strategic and efficient transport policies to stem the suffering.
A report we carried on Tuesday had numbing facts and figures on the massive cost of traffic jams to Kenyans and the economy. According to Kenya Institute for Public Policy and Research and Analysis, Nairobi alone loses Sh5 billion annually to traffic jams!
But figures not contextualised can be abstract. Nairobi’s population has galloped from under 400,000 in 50 years to over 4.5 million currently while the number of vehicles, according to the current Economic Survey, shot from 300,000 10 years ago by almost 100,000.
The Nairobi Metropolitan Growth Strategy formulated more than four decades ago provided direction on among others, enhancement of transport efficiency in the light of fast growing city and accompanying needs.
True, 40 years forward, there has been completion of the Thika Superhighway that was meant to guarantee unprecedented accessibility and ease of traffic flow between Thika and Nairobi. Then the completions of the Eastern, Southern and Northern bypasses should have considerably eased the gridlock. But they appear to have only marginally improved the situation.
There are also realities of narrow, poorly-maintained roads choked by inordinate number of personal vehicles and public commuter systems, notably matatu cartels, which compound the traffic headache.
The city growth plan had envisaged restricted number of motorable vessels daily finding their way into the CBD. The cost in time, fuel burned and escalated emotional stress are overwhelming. This is compounded by inability of Traffic Law regulatory and enforcement agencies to make any real difference due to ethical deficits. Slaps on wrist for traffic offenders, bribery and tolerating vile attitude of matatu crew must stop even as more expansive infrastructural measures are undertaken.
Policy interventionist moves in response to demands for enhanced and efficient road usage to stir economic growth appear blunt.
Our public transport must stop being synonymous with chaos occasioned, in part, by matatu operational and ownership modes and absence of viable alternatives. There must be more investment in light rail systems and scheduled buses. The NYS buses recently introduced should operate within time frames.