The government’s indefinite suspension of a directive that had required all cargo to and from Mombasa Port to be ferried on the Standard Gauge Railway is a welcome relief for private truckers and clearing firms. It is a timely respite for those who risked losing their jobs.
However, this is not the solution to the problem that has been simmering for several years. But it provides a chance for the authorities and the industry to come up with a system that will accommodate all.
While the advent of the SGR has done quite well to ease passenger train services between Nairobi and Mombasa, the same cannot be said of its cargo transportation.
It had been expected to increase efficiency, reduce the time taken from more than 10 hours to about five, and help to clear the trucks menace on the highway. But this dream has remained elusive.
There are times when the owners of the goods cannot tell where exactly their consignments are and continue to incur hefty demurrage charges.
These hitches inevitably push up the cost of doing business and erode profit margins.
In a country that cherishes economic liberalisation, the various entities compete freely. The SGR is a venture that is being implemented with hefty public loans that will eventually be shouldered by taxpayers. Forcing the same taxpayers to use only these services, denying choice exposes them to double jeopardy.
As Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia has been summoned by the National Assembly, this should provide an opportunity to trash out the sticking issues.
The 800 trucks plying the Nairobi-Mombasa highway daily are a huge investment and a source of jobs that must not be sacrificed to create a monopoly for the SGR.
It should be left to compete freely without unfairly disadvantaging its smaller competitors.