The proposal by the Transport ministry to regulate public service vehicle fares is bold and appropriate.
Ordinarily, ours is a free-market economy where prices are dictated by demand and supply. In that context, it is not the business of the government to control fees in the private sector.
However, dire circumstances necessitate drastic actions. PSVs, especially matatus, have the notoriety to operate outside the normative realms.
The industry is characterised by chaos, indiscipline and exploitation. It is a world of lawlessness, where anything goes.
Fares are erratic and passengers are exploited at the slightest of chances. Vehicles are driven recklessly and perpetually put the lives of passengers at risk. Clearly, the government cannot allow a clique to control the lives of the people.
This provides the justification for amendments proposed by the ministry that seek to change the Traffic Act and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) law to provide for price regulation.
The proposed amendments have been submitted to Parliament for review and approval. Regulating prices is an important step in creating order in the sector.
But right from the outset, it must be observed that the plan is replete with challenges.
Enforcing such rules will be particularly daunting, given the sheer numbers of vehicles and the capacity of the ministry, the police and NTSA to monitor them.
Not that this is the first time the government is seeking to act on exploitative PSV vehicles.
Several initiatives exist to tame and rein in the rogue operators. There are rules about speed, seat belts and the number of passengers to be carried.
But those are defied at will. Except for the brief period during the first years of the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) in the early 2000s, when then Transport minister John Michuki instituted and implemented strict traffic rules, subsequent attempts have come to naught.
Controlling prices is, definitely, a tall order and promises to elicit stiff resistance from the players.
That is a reality that the ministry has to brace itself for, and hence be prepared to come down hard on those who defy the rules.
It must carefully think through the process of enforcing the proposal. Merely enacting the laws does not help unless they are put into force.
At this early hour, the ministry must begin to mobilise public support for the plan. Better still, it should consult the PSV operators to agree on broad realistic rates.
Regulation does not necessarily mean uncharacteristically lowering prices but charging what makes economic sense, cushions commuters from exploitation and protects businesses from losses.
This public interest matter must be carefully thought through and executed firmly.