My attempt last week to visit Industrial Area, the heartbeat of Nairobi’s and, by extension, the country’s economy, failed. Traffic jam was unbearable. After circling the area, there was no single entry that was not jam-packed.
This is happening not because there are no roads but largely because of human indiscipline.
Bad driving behaviour is depriving the economy of billions of shillings. Most drivers flout traffic rules especially at roundabouts.
One of the key entry points into Industrial Area that I tried using is the dual carriage way, but that did not help because of the gridlock at the roundabout where no one wanted to give in to ease traffic. Handcarts too added to the bottleneck. As a result, what was supposed to take me an hour ended up being a five-hour ordeal and I did not even get near my destination.
Kenyans complain about traffic jams but rarely point out that one of the major problems is behaviour-related.
If everyone waited for their turn at the roundabout, traffic would move. The culture that is building on road use is that if you find your way to the front, it is OK, irrespective of what those in the queue feel.
In the long run, such behaviour erodes our conscience and we eventually cease to act with civility.
The problem is further compounded by the many motorbikes as well as handcarts ferrying non-essentials like scrap metal at the expense of raw materials for industrial production.
At the current stage of development, some of the essential feeder roads should have minimum speed such that investors can estimate time it takes to deliver raw materials as well as the level of inventory they should keep to facilitate their production efficiency.
While my proposals are part of the wider planning to achieve the Big Four Agenda, there are low hanging fruits that could be leveraged to help industries become more productive and improve the country’s competitiveness.
Since the current city administration has no idea how these concepts work together to expand economic output, we simply need to entice them with the promise of increased revenue from leveraging technology.
In my view, technology can be used to change behaviour. This would not be complicated, given that the government has already invested heavily on Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) infrastructure covering Nairobi and Mombasa, two cities with the highest number of vehicles in Kenya.
A little more investment in machine-readable number plates and the backend operations will create new jobs in manufacturing and monitoring of traffic. Those who jump traffic lights or force their way to disrupt the smooth flow of traffic can be instantly fined for their misbehaviours.
Several technologies including, blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and Global Positioning Systems can be used to track down those who have not paid fines and arrest them.
Such a system will eliminate corruption by traffic officials since vehicles will be stopped not on the assumption misbehaviour but because there is evidence of violating traffic rules, which cannot be deleted until the fines have been paid.
Further, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), the Insurance Regulatory Authority and the Kenya Revenue Authority should encourage technology driven insurance products that will assist in changing culture and behaviour.
In many countries such the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany, telematics insurance products are beginning to be common. This is a situation where the vehicle is fitted with a small device, sometimes referred to as a 'black box', which records and monitors driving patterns such as breaking and distance covered each day as well as types of roads used.
The data obtained from the black box is then used to build the driving style picture that determines the cost of insurance and the premium is adjusted accordingly.
Within a short period of time, drivers will begin to understand the cost of misbehaviour that will certainly push them to change the bad culture of driving that has persisted in the country for some time.
Other strategies are to use CCTV to recover stolen vehicles as well as removing illegal vehicles from streets.
The benefits are huge both to road users and the government. Many insurance brokers corruptly sell insurance stickers without insuring the vehicle. Such fraud will be a thing of the past since at every CCTV location every vehicle registration will be validated with NTSA and insurance databases.
These proposed technology solutions will indeed force a cultural and behaviour change of drivers, traffic officials and insurance agents. In addition, the solutions will create jobs, enhance revenue collection and improve the country’s economic competitiveness.
An American poet, Emily Dickinson said, ''Behaviour is what a man does, not what he thinks, feels, or believes.''
We can get rid of bad behaviour and begin to think about our economic expansion, feel the emotions of others where we jump the queue and believe in our ability to change.
The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.@bantigito