PSVs, Private Vehicles, decongesting Nairobi’s traffic and the right to access CBD

Yesterday, Governor Dr. Evans Kidero together with Cabinet Secretary for Transport Eng. Michael Kamau released a joint statement on the plan both the National Government and the County Government want to implement as an attempt to address the ever increasing traffic congestion in Nairobi and environs. Part of the statement read:

It has been noted that PSV’s have converted some streets in the CBD as termini causing congestion. In order to address the problem and also streamline PSV operations in the city the following measures will be implemented:

Review all PSV termini and bus stops in the city and redesign routes to avoid termination of PSV’s in the CBD.

Enforce the Nairobi County by-Law that allows PSV to wait for passengers at termini for a maximum of 40 minutes and 5 minutes at bus stops.

Review all PSV routes to improve traffic flow and gazette the same.

Suspension of licensing of PSV’s on Nairobi City routes until a demand analysis of all routes is undertaken to justify issuance of additional licenses.

A multi-agency team comprising NTSA, Nairobi County and traffic police will enforce and ensure all PSVs comply with NTSA act, City by-laws and the Traffic Act.

The statement went on to talk about road expansion plans, plans to reduce and possibly eliminate the numerous roundabouts on Nairobi roads, implement an Intelligent Transport System with centrally controlled Traffic Management Centre to manage traffic movement, escalate the construction of by-pass and ring roads that are currently ongoing, and introduction of the much hyped Rapid Transport System and Corridor in the long term 3 years +.

The entire statement that can be read here, however, did not touch on what I think is the main cause of Nairobi’s traffic problem, the private vehicles.

As the Governor and Cabinet Secretary were busy reading their joint statement, I was somewhere along Ngong Road counting cars. I wasn’t doing that out of boredom but I took my time to come up with a rough estimate of what could be the ratio of Public Service Vehicles to Personal Cars that go and come out of CBD. The counting took me two hours.

According to the non-scientific data collection that I did, there are 9 to 15 private cars for every PSV going in or out of Nairobi’s CBD. For subsequent discussions I will assume that we have 10 private cars to every PSV in Nairobi’s CBD. According to a figure mentioned last year on the number of PSVs on the roads of Nairobi, a figure I discussed in the article¬†Limit Matatus to 4000 to control traffic jam in Nairobi, there are about 30,000 PSVs that ply the routes of Nairobi hence¬†we can assume there are about¬†300,000 private vehicles that get to CBD every week day, a very low estimate if this article written in September 2014 by Tony Ngare of The Standard is to be believed, but let’s stick with my estimate of 300,000.

30,000 versus 300,000

Between those two figures, which do you think has the capability to cause traffic congestion on our roads? Obviously the second figure. In cities that have experienced traffic congestion, a traffic decongestion system generally known as Park and Ride has been implemented. In Park and Ride system, owners of Private Cars are required to leave their cars outside the city and commute into the city using Public Transport System. Listen to this Wikipedia article on Park and Ride:

In Sweden, a tax has been introduced on the benefit of free or cheap parking paid by an employer, if workers would otherwise have to pay. The tax has reduced the number of workers driving into the inner city, and increased the usage of park-and-ride areas, especially in Stockholm. The introduction of a congestion tax in Stockholm has further increased the usage of park and ride.

In Prague, park-and-ride car parks are established near some metro and railway stations (about 17 parks near 12 metro stations and 3 train stations, in 2011). These car parks offer low prices and all-day and return (2× 75 min) tickets including the public transport fare.

On the benefits of Park and Ride, the Wikipedia article has this to say:

Park-and-ride facilities allow commuters to avoid a stressful drive along congested roads and a search for scarce, expensive city-centre parking. They reduce congestion by assisting the use of public transport in congested urban areas,

There are other traffic decongestion schemes that have been implemented elsewhere in the world which include:

  • Parking restrictions
  • Park and Ride (already discussed)
  • Reduction of road capacity (instead of increasing)
  • Road pricing (charging money for access onto a road/specific area at certain times, congestion levels or for certain road users
  • “Cap and trade”, in which only licensed cars are allowed on the roads
  • Road space rotation
  • Encouraging the use of alternative roads e.g. the by-passes and
  • Online shopping promotion.

As you may note; almost all of these alternatives discourage the use of Personal Vehicles.

It is therefor clear, if there is a type of vehicle that should be restricted to CBD, it is the personal vehicle. Yesterday on this debate I tweeted via @Kachwanya and said:

I once held a conversation with a private car owner on this subject and surprisingly he agreed with my reasoning. According to him, it should be a matter of policy and possibly a by-law for private car owners to be restricted/controlled when it comes to using their cars to access the CBD. The control mechanism is simple, increase parking fees ten fold (e.g. to Shs 3,000 per day) and introduce tolling fees at all CBD entry points.

These two charges will surely discourage many private car owners and they will be forced to use the available public transport system.

Not all private car owners agree. A tweep, by the handle @ElayneOkaya asked:

And that’s the problem with most Kenyans. In countries such as Germany, UK, China and India, citizens do not consider driving to or from work any better than walking. What’s better in these countries is getting to your destination faster and in the most cost effective manner. That’s why, in these countries, most city commuters have opted to ride bicycles (not the classy mountain bike category, but the normal boda boda bicycles you would find at Bungoma) to work, alongside complying with the other policy regulations such as the Park and Ride.

In his Facebook update, my friend Fred Ombako wondered:

Some people here are faced with two options (1) walk to town and get there in 30 mins or (2) wait for a bus to town and reach in 2hrs. Hundreds are choosing option 2. I can’t understand their logic.

The logic is the same one being used by car owners who refuse to leave their private cars for public transport.

But, are there enough PSVs to ferry all Nairobians? Are the available PSVs of good quality?

In the opening statement on the plan to decongest Nairobi’s traffic, it was mentioned as follows:

Congestion in Nairobi City is due to a transport system, that has experienced exponential growth in vehicle population without commensurate expansion of road infrastructure. The situation has been worsened by inadequate public transport system with the capacity to ferrying the growing number of commuters within the metropolitan area efficiently.

That’s totally incorrect. The reason there seem to be inadequate PSVs is the traffic jam. If the traffic jam was eliminated, basically by removing as many private vehicles from the road as possible, then Nairobi will only need¬†4,000 PSVS with a capacity of 40 passengers to ferry Nairobians to and from work. The calculations were already done in the article¬†Limit Matatus to 4000 to control traffic jam in Nairobi.

This is what I suggest to Nairobi Governor, ban all private cars from accessing CBD for three or so days and observe how this would impact on traffic flow. Then draft a policy based on that.

The second part of the question that asks whether the PSVs available are of good quality has two answers, yes and no. There exist some PSVs that are indeed road unworthy. These PSVs should be taken out of the road even within the existing policy framework.

Having said that, I do not think it is wisdom for someone to require that all PSVs must meet some quality standards before he/she can opt to leave that precious car at home and get to do his/her money making business faster.

Did you hear that Nairobians lose more than shs 50 million every month due to traffic jam?

Why is the Government not focused on Private Cars to ease Nairobi’s traffic?

The world over, as already described, it is known that private vehicles are the main cause of traffic jam. This fact should be alive in the mind of Dr. Kidero the Governor and¬†Mohamed Abdullahi who chaired the task force that came up with the plan to decongest Nairobi’s traffic.

However, in the plan launched by Dr. Kidero and Eng. Kamau, there is no mention on how the government is planning to address the route cause of Nairobi’s traffic menace. And the reason for the neglect is this:

As I estimated, there are over 300,000 private vehicles accessing CBD. Each of these vehicles is required to part with Shs 300 Parking fees. The total daily revue collected from these vehicles amounts to Shs 90 million Рand that would be shs 2.16 billion each year.

And now you know where the bulk of Nairobi’s shs 4.3 billion revenue collected last year came from. They surely can’t kill their major source of income.


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