If you can’t tame road bullies, then give these hogs BRT lanes

Thursday July 11 2019

bus rapid transit system

Workers mark a section of Thika Road ahead of the introduction of the bus rapid transit system. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NMG 

MUTUMA MATHIU
By MUTUMA MATHIU
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I’ve been the victim of the most vicious, unfair, inconsiderate, brutish, violent mistreatment. Various spirited attempts have been made to humiliate, intimidate and discomfit me as I’ve been going about my ordinary life, minding my own business and otherwise being a perfectly average, ageing, law-abiding Kenyan.

SCARRED FACADES

I’ve been left emotionally bruised, my feelings, or what is left of them, hurt, my ego deflated, my outlook in life somewhat damaged. You will never know how hard, difficult, unfair and downright degrading life is until you drive a small, 1300cc car on Thika Road. It is the most humbling experience in all of my many, many years.

Finally, I am a non-person.

I love this small car. Its dark cloth interior is comfortable. It’s got some spirit; if you stomp on the gas it will surprise you: It explodes like a Maserati. And it’s clever — it switches on its little lights, it bends them around corners to illuminate your way, it’s careful in the way it warms up the little engine in the morning, it’s sensible and hassles you to put on your belt.

Parking it is a bliss. I’m at that age where I’m perfectly happy giving the car to someone else to park. It’s unmanly, but I’d rather not have to fight fitting a big car in a tight space than be manly.

Now that we are being honest, I’d rather drive the biggest, blingiest, baddest V8 in Nairobi province, tenderpreneurs be damned. As a matter of fact, tenderpreneurs and corrupt civil servants swing around in V8s because they are powerful, massive cars. I can’t afford it, so I’m having to live with the little hand-me-down. And it’s not bad; its fantastically well engineered, convenient, economical and generally very nice to use.

This is not a view that is broadly shared by the numb-brained drivers of the long-nose terrors of Thika Road. The buses don’t have four corners like normal vehicles; they tend towards the round from having their square edges filed down in crashes, sideswipes and head-on collisions. To say these monuments to bad driving are accident-prone is to do violence to the terminology. Their scarred façades — like the damaged, broken-nosed face of a boxer — are even more frightening than the manner in which they are driven.

LONG-NOSE TERROR

I’ve sat in this little thing with one hulking bus behind me, another in front of me and two trying to occupy the same space as me at the same time by squeezing me from the sides. I’ve many times shouted, waved, screamed and otherwise tried to attract the attention of their drivers to let them know that they were about to kill me. None of them ever notices me or pays any attention as they don’t see me.

I’ve realised, with shock, that these drivers see through small cars. They don’t know you are there. It’s in your best interest to get out of the way or sit tight and die with quiet dignity, not shouting and weeping like a maniac.

And so I have a brilliant proposal. A civilised space is one in which the weak and meek — such as pedestrians, cyclists and the drivers of small cars — can coexist with dignity and safety same as the drivers of the big, long-nose terrors. So here is the thing: since our roads have this apartheid red lipstick on it, why don’t we make it real?

Why don’t we have separate development of the cars and have the long noses have the BRT thing, since there are no BRT buses, and the meek and weak use the rest of the road?

Heck, the long noses can even have the rest of the road and the weak and meek can have the lipstick. You want separate lanes? Here is your chance.

Another, final, thing. Somebody ought to research on the evolution of the humble walkie-talkie from an instrument of communication to a coercive tool for imposing privilege. I can do nothing about government officials using my money to buy themselves nice cars, fuel them and misuse them. But to walkie-talkie me off the road because some sleepyhead official is late for a meeting or showing off to some other guy? How hard can it be to procure a walkie-talkie?

Watch out for a greying guy in a 1300cc hatchback with a walkie-talkie sticking out of the window, scything through the traffic in a road near you.

* * *

A big storm is buffeting the Sh200 billion gambling industry, the powerful, premier league club-sponsoring juggernaut that has taken Kenya, and Africa, by, well, storm.

The Interior ministry says the sports betting folks are sucking billions out of the country, corrupting the morals of the youth and turning them into debt junkies. Young couples, it is claimed, are no longer investing in plots; they are betting on obscure clubs. Betting is no longer gambling but “investing”, according to these folks.

The betting firms, on the other hand, argue that they have had a positive, transformative impact on the lives of Kenyans by putting money in the hands of winners, supporting sport and paying humongous amounts of money in taxes. They also speak darkly of conspiracies and commercial skulduggery.

At the moment, I’ve ordered popcorn and Coke: I’m going to sit right here on the fence and follow the proceedings with great interest.

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