Battle looms over control of city routes

Tuesday July 17 2012

By MWANIKI WAHOME [email protected]

A new battle is looming over control of public transport routes between 14-seater matatus and buses, even as the government maintains that the policy to migrate to higher capacity vehicles stands.

Last week, undercurrents in the sector came to the fore after 14-seater matatu owners in Thika held public demonstrations following the entry of a bus company — Kenya Mpya — on the route.

The Public Transport Tribunal ordered the withdrawal of buses from Eastleigh route after 14-seater matatu owners won a petition against the bus firms, which they accused of operating without licences.

Stakeholders in the sector say the two incidents have laid bare the chaos that could grip the sector before enactment of a Transport Act, which is with the committee on transport awaiting debate in Parliament.

Transport Licensing Board chairman Joseph Thuo, however, said the large buses will eventually takeover public transport in the country.

“We are not licensing new 14-seater matatus. Those operating new vehicles are doing so illegally. The government’s policy is to phase out 14-seater matatus and replace them with buses,” he said.

However, investigations by the Nation revealed that matatus with some of the latest registration numbers, including KBR, are operating on some routes.

Some operators say inconsistent policies spawned more chaos in the sector, with the entry of even lower capacity seven-seater vehicles, tuk tuk and boda bodas.

As matatu operators were being organised into savings and credit societies, the government was encouraging migration to higher capacity vehicles, which has given rise to intense battles for control of routes, particularly in Nairobi.

“We were opposed to the establishment of matatu saccos and even now they are not covered in the Traffic Act. This is because there was no clearly thought-out plan on how they were to operate,” said Kenya Bus Management Services managing director Edwins Mukabana.

More vehicles registered

According to the Economic Survey 2012, there was a significant drop of 87 per cent in the registration of mini-buses and matatus from 3,600 units in 2010 to 451 units in 2011.

This, according to the survey, could have been occasioned by the government policy aimed at phasing out 14-seaters to decongest towns.

The policy resulted in registration of more buses and coaches, maintaining an upward trend from 1,264 units in 2010 to 1,662 units in 2011.

In 2009, the number of 14-seaters dropped by 19 per cent. The government reversed the policy of phasing out 14-seaters this year, after intense lobbying.