President Uhuru Kenyatta has reined in his Government’s plans to ban the use of 14-seater vans in the country’s public transport sector.
The government will effect the ban in Nairobi and Mombasa, but exceptions will be made to matatus operating in long distance routes and in rural areas.
He also said he saw no reason to continue to prohibit the colourful artwork that once made public service vehicles icons of Kenyan creativity.
The Head of State intervened in the campaign to push the low-capacity vehicles out of the matatu (public taxi) business during the launch of a cashless payment system for public service vehicles in Nairobi on Wednesday.
“After wide consultation and research involving my Government and stakeholders, it has become clear that a blanket ban on 14-seater PSV, especially for long distance and rural transport, may not be appropriate at this time," Mr Kenyatta said.
The announcement provides a lifeline for industry players who were bracing for changes that would first force the vehicles out of most urban centres and then see the vehicles phased out completely.
The President was speaking at the Matatu Owners Association National Delegates Council meeting. The event saw the launch of the MY 1963 pre-paid card, one of several cashless payment systems to be used on PSVs in the country.
He urged industry players to use the new cashless payment systems to provide better services and improve the lives of both their employees and their passengers.
“We’re going to digital payments so that we can have a regulated industry and create jobs through maximum collections,” Matatu Owners Association chairman Simon Kimutai said. He added that use of cash led to numerous losses and encouraged petty corruption when traffic police stopped matatus.
The president also questioned one of the changes introduced several years ago by then Transport minister John Michuki requiring matatus to have one colour only, marked with a yellow line across the middle.
“To be frank, why are we interfering with graffiti on matatus?” he asked, recalling the days when colourful vans were the norm. “Let us (support) our young people (if they wish to make a living doing such artwork).”
Matatu associations and savings and credit cooperatives have been pushing for the lifting of a freeze on new registration of 14-seaters, which the National Transport and Safety Authority began to enforce in December last year. They were also opposed to plans to force 14-seater matatus already registered as PSVs out of cities and towns, the most lucrative markets in the Sh200 billion public transport sector.
Despite significant investment in larger mini-buses and buses in recent years, 14-seater vans account for a significant proportion of the private sector’s investment in a country with a weak public transport system.
The ban was proposed as a traffic decongestion measure following the failure of several unpopular attempts to bar low-capacity matatus from entering the Nairobi Central Business District.
The MY 1963 card, issued by the Matatu Owners Association, is developed by Fabre Space Limited and operated on a point-of-sale terminal installed in compliant vehicles. It can be topped up using Safaricom’s M-Pesa service.
Rival cashless systems include BebaPay (by Equity Bank and Google) and Abiria Pay (from Kenya Commercial Bank, MasterCard and Kenya Bus Services).