An overcrowded footbridge bursting at the seams with pedestrians; bare bus parks within Nairobi’s central business district; heavy police presence … these were the scenes that characterised Nairobi as the directive that matatus should not access the city centre took effect yesterday, forcing thousands of passengers to brave the long trudge into and out of the city.
The footbridge near Fig Tree at Ngara became one of the symbols of the chaos occasioned by the county government’s renewed move to decongest city streets. The bridge remained packed to the gills with a moving crowd of pedestrians all day Monday. The pedestrians had been dropped off at the nearby terminus.
The Ngara drop-off point was chaotic. Women tightly clutched the hands of their small children while others lugged heavy luggage as they made their way into the city. Those who could afford boarded boda bodas for the final dash to the city centre.
“I’m so tired, and I still have a long way left to my destination. I didn’t know that the new rule would take effect today, so I was caught by surprise,” Ms Maureen Njoki said after she walked into town from Ngara with her three-year-old daughter.
“I had heard about the new rules but I hadn’t paid too much attention to them. I found out that I would have to alight at Ngara when I boarded the matatu. I walk a lot, so the distance is not a big thing for me. I, however, feel sorry for women with children, the sick and the elderly. I do not think it is fair to them at all,” Mr Harrison Kabiru from Kasarani told the Daily Nation.
The day began on a sour note for most matatu commuters as the new drop-off points meant they would have to walk to work. Most people reported to their places of work late because of heavy traffic on major roads feeding the city.
“I had already made changes to my routine because I knew about the matatu ban. I woke up at 5am instead of the usual 6am, but, you see, this the time I am getting to town (9.30am). I had an appointment at 8.30am. I hope my clients will understand, but they are also probably late as well,” Ms Sarah Kago said before rushing for her appointment.
Faith Mpinda was walking with her 10-year-old daughter to the Railways terminus to board a matatu to Lang’ata after she arrived at Ngara.
“When I left Meru at 4am, I thought the matatu would get to Tea Room as usual, only to be shocked when they told us to alight at Ngara,” she said. “I don’t know what time we will get to our destination. The little girl is already tired.”
However, Nairobi Transport and Roads executive Mohamed Dagane explained that the traffic jam experienced on major roads into the city was occasioned by confusion at the designated termini. He said all will be smooth in the coming days.
“Part of the reason for the congestion today was the confusion at the dropping areas. This should streamline in the coming days,” said Mr Dagane.
He said the county has deployed 250 city inspectorate officers, who will be aided by 350 police officers and 20 senior officers, to monitor the operation.
Mr Dagane’s chief officer, Mr Frederick Karanja, also took cue from his bosses, maintaining that the directive will continue until sanity is achieved in the capital city.
“We will not go back on it,” he said. “We have been meeting the matatu operators, who were given one month to manage themselves but they did not. They are just in a panic mode.”
Mr Karanja accused matatu drivers of deliberately creating the gridlock to get sympathy from the public and generate negative sentiments over the ban. “You will never have enough spaces. What they are looking for is a holding ground which does not exist, and we are telling them that we do not have it and we will not provide any. We expected this kind of resistance but with time it will be sorted out,” he said.
Mr Karanja said the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities will be catered for soon once the county introduces city-run buses that will pick commuters from the drop-off zones.
Nairobi County chief enforcement officer Tito Kilonzi said they will monitor boda-bodas to keep them from entering the CBD, although he admitted that some of them have been evading the city inspectorate.
“I am currently on the ground to oversee the enforcement. This is a multi-agency effort. We have a strong force of police officers and traffic marshals who are on the ground to effect the ban,” said Mr Kilonzi.
Nevertheless, Nairobi Assembly minority whip Peter Imwatok said the ban is not backed by any law, and that he had not witnessed any bill brought before the assembly over the matter.
He claimed there was a plan by a well-connected cartel to procure buses that would ferry passengers from the newly designated termini into the city, in the name of decongesting the CBD.
“We are defending the rights of poor Nairobians,” said Mr Imwatok. “The move is ill-timed and I am asking the governor to give Kenyans a chance to celebrate Christmas in peace.”
Reporting by Collins Omulo, Agewa Magut, and Pauline Kairu.