Why Kenyan motorists are racing to a traffic standstill
Posted Saturday, May 5 2012 at 22:30
Jennifer Wafula lives only 25 minutes or 17 kilometres from the town centre in the fast-growing multi-class Ongata Rongai suburb of Nairobi.
Her daily commute to work over the past few weeks illustrates the traffic mess the city’s residents are enduring.
The 28-year-old IT consultant spends as much time on the road — two and half hours in the morning and three and half hours in the evening — as she does at work.
The onset of the rainy season has traditionally spelt longer hours in traffic for residents of many major towns like Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.
But this year, the problem has been especially bad. Unexpectedly heavy rains have combined with a witches’ brew of other factors such as poor planning and inadequate drainage to turn the roads into massive––and often flooded–– parking lanes every morning and evening.
The traffic crisis is costing the economy billions of shillings in wasted man hours, pounding an already overstretched infrastructure network and leaving city residents a disgruntled lot.
In one of the worst incidents two weeks ago, thousands of Nairobians spent up to eight hours on the road after rushing water swept across Mombasa Road sending fares soaring and triggering one of the largest tailbacks the main arterial road leading to the growing residential areas of Kitengela, Athi River and Mlolongo has known.
The traffic situation in major towns in the country—which is hardly much better in the dry season—has triggered demands for urgent measures to tackle the problem.
“If we are realistic, we will admit that we cannot grow as a nation when a large proportion of the urban population spends so many hours in traffic, and resources such as petrol that make up the bulk of our import bill are squandered in jams,” says Mr James Shikwati, head of the advocacy group Inter-Region Economic Network.
“We must look for lasting solutions to meaningfully tackle this crisis.” Analysts agree that a large number of factors contribute to the acute transport crisis on the roads in major cities and towns such as Eldoret, Nakuru, Kisii, Meru and Nakuru which only about 10 years ago did not suffer rush-hour congestion.
One of the most important changes contributing to the problem has been a surge in increased motor vehicle registrations.
This rise has been driven especially by a marked uptick in used car imports, which has turned most members of the middle class into vehicle owners.
The number of vehicles on Kenyan roads has been growing by double digits every year for the last decade.
More than doubled
In 2002, a total of 17,280 new car registrations were reported by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Five years later, that number had more than doubled to 42,008, an increase of 143 per cent.
The boom was primarily driven by an increase in bank lending from 2003, when monetary policy changes forced banks to diversify their lending portfolios from reliance on government borrowing to lending to private individuals.
The combined vehicular population was driven up even more dramatically after the Finance ministry waived the import duty on motorcycles in 2006.
The previous year, 4,494 motorcycles and autocycles were registered. Four years down the line, that figure rose to 91,151, constituting a percentage rise of 1,928 per cent.