Cash hitch dims hope for rapid bus transport system

Sunday October 21 2018

mass transportation bus

A protype bus for the proposed low-cost mass transportation system during its unveiling in Nairobi on October 15. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

JAMES KARIUKI
By JAMES KARIUKI
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The much-hyped Nairobi Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) project appears to have gone cold with no budgetary allocation to develop accompanying infrastructure.

The deafening silence is evident in all State departments from roads, transport, Office of the President and Nairobi County government that had set up an inter-agency to oversee the actualisation of the BRT dream.

Proponents will have to face-off with the Nairobi County government that has openly opposed introduction of high capacity buses to secure revenues collected from hundreds of small capacity buses that operate within the city.

Transport executive Mohamed Dagane said they are yet to be consulted on the matter to determine the location of the BRT high-capacity buses expected to seal the fate of small-capacity vehicles operating within the city.

Bus Operators’ Alliance chairman Edwin Mukabana last week said the government’s non-committal stance is a sign of its unpreparedness despite the private sector’s desire to fast track movement of cargo and passengers across Nairobi.

“The government says it is set to launch the BRT service and did mark some lanes for use by high-capacity buses but to date no one has convened a stakeholders’ meeting to address several pertinent issues we have raised regarding this multimillion shilling investment.

“What incentives are in place for investors to sink their money into the new BRT and what is the role of banks in providing affordable credit to activate faster uptake of BRT by Nairobi saccos?” he posed.

Mr Mukabana said special infrastructure for the buses should be developed with current public service vehicles provided with a seamless integrated platform to log into the BRT hub thereby ensuring a win-win situation.

“We cannot kill the multi-billion shilling investments in the matatu sector but we must develop a locally-mooted solution that assures them of their existence. If it is proved some will lose business as a result of BRT, then they must be compensated,” he said.

Isuzu East Africa managing director Rita Kavashe supported adoption of local solutions, saying it would guarantee credit finance for BRT investors as local banks were keen to partner with developers of the high-capacity buses.

“Kenya has an active aftersales mechanical and technical capacity to service buses ensuring they remain on the road for as long as 20 years and this is a strength that must be harnessed to promote creation of new jobs as well as improving movement of people and goods from one location to another,” she said.

Regional bus builder LSHS, which jointly worked with Isuzu to produce the two prototypes for the proposed low-cost mass transportation system, said Kenya’s capacity to manufacture and maintain its BRT fleet was unrivalled.

LSHS managing director Daniel Maundu said the prototypes — a 33-seater bus with 20 standing passengers and a 59-seater bus with 45 standing passengers — fully conformed to the new specifications.

“Investors in the matatu industry have expressed interest in buying the buses and we are awaiting the government’s nod to receive new orders for the BRT buses.

“Kenya does not need to import any BRT buses since they will be expensive to run on Kenyan roads due to lack of skilled manpower to service the buses as well as lack of spare parts,” he said.

Mr Mukabana said the BRT buses must solve the ticketing and scheduling challenge by having manufacturers install the digital gadgets that commuters can download on their phones to pay fares online for the scheduled trips.

“We cannot ignore technology since passengers and long distance matatu operators need to see the location of the BRT buses to schedule their trips,” he said.

“Kenya has several vehicle assemblers and 12 bus body builders who serve the East African market as well as a supporting technical team strewn across the region. If implemented Kenya could unlock a multi-billion business,” he added.

Mr Mukabana said an authority should be formed to unveil the BRT system across Nairobi with funds set aside to set up a transport hub with a capacity to hold up to 200 BRT buses as well as provide passenger bays and service bays.

While everyone agrees traffic gridlocks give Nairobi a bad name, it seems no one is willing to take the political backlash by launching the BRT buses, as happened to Kipipiri MP Amos Kimunya when he spearheaded a campaign to end importation of 14-seater matatus.