In Summary

  • More and more people are moving into Kenya’s cities and the country is urbanising at the rate of more than 4 per cent every year, according to the World Bank
  • For instance on July 30, 2007, Business Daily reported Sameer Africa had created a new production line to deal with the rising demand for tyres
  • Since the Thika Superhighway was opened in 2012, traffic jams have become increasingly common

A poor transport system and disjointed urban development in Nairobi are limiting its ability to serve global markets and create employment, a Nation Newsplex review of recent urbanisation studies shows.

About 80 per cent of all trips in the capital city are made by matatu (minibus), bus or foot, yet the average household can only reach 11 per cent to 20 per cent of formal job opportunities in one hour using these means, according to the 2016 Kenya Urbanisation Review published by the World Bank.

In addition, new buildings which do not border existing ones — or leapfrog development of lands in a manner requiring the extension of public facilities — makes providing the infrastructure that improves productivity in cities more difficult.

It means people and companies remain separated from each other, making it difficult to match skills with opportunities.

Such disjointed development makes it difficult for companies that do similar work to gain from locating near each other, a benefit that economists describe as “agglomeration economies”.

This is according to another report, titled Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World, which was published this year by the World Bank and the British Government.

As a consequence, Nairobi is limited to producing goods and services that are mostly consumed locally and not in far-flung markets around the world. Specialised manufacturing is particularly affected.

More and more people are moving into Kenya’s cities and the country is urbanising at the rate of more than 4 per cent every year, according to the World Bank. Half the country’s population will be living in cities by 2050, and Nairobi is expected to have six million people by 2030. But Nairobi’s transport system has not kept pace with the growth.

For cities to be economically viable, efficient transport is vital. Nairobi roads were the world’s fourth-most congested — according to the IBM Commuter Pain Survey, which was last published in 2011 — after Mexico City, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

The government estimated in 2014 that traffic jams in Nairobi cost Sh50 million a day in lost productivity.

In Nairobi, nearly half of all commuters (47 per cent) go to work by walking. According to the New Urban Agenda, which was agreed at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, last year and is supposed to guide urban development over the next 20 years, cities are advised to prioritise public transport and non-motorised transport.

TRANSITION PERIOD

The government has worked to improve transportation in Nairobi in two main ways: Building more roads and bypasses, and reforming public transport.

In 2003, soon after taking office, the President Mwai Kibaki-led Narc government prepared a draft National Integrated Transportation strategy.

In August 2006, then-Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere, announced that the government would cease licensing public service vehicles with less than 25 seats from March 2007, a limit that included 14-seater matatus. However, the vehicles already licensed would be allowed to wear out by natural attrition.

Vehicle manufacturers, anticipating more business, made plans to manufacture larger vehicles. For instance on July 30, 2007, Business Daily reported Sameer Africa had created a new production line to deal with the rising demand for tyres.

However, matatu operators, under the Matatu Welfare Association, protested. They demanded that if low-capacity matatus were to go, then the government should buy them from the operators because they represented a significant investment.

The lobby also called for a transition period of 10 to 15 years. In 2007, the 14-seater vehicles were handed a lifeline when the “phase out” order was de-gazetted by Mr Mwakwere, upsetting the plans of manufacturers.

In 2009, Kenya’s National Integrated Transport Policy was finally published. It encouraged regulated competition in the mass transport industry. The policy also foresaw an end to the 14-seater matatu. It stated:

The ultimate policy intention is that existing low-capacity PSV vehicles be progressively phased out in the medium term (five to seven years) by encouraging local entrepreneurs (co-operative societies, financial institutions and local investors) to invest in higher-capacity vehicles (buses) with a view to reducing the number of vehicles on the roads while increasing the number of passengers transported

In December 2010, then-Transport Minister Amos Kimunya banned the registration of PSVs carrying fewer than 25 passengers in urban areas from January 2011.

LARGER BUSES

The impact of the ban is clear from the statistics. In 2011, only 451 minibuses and matatus were registered — just 13 per cent of the 3,600 registered in 2010. The decline continued until 2012, when 78 new vehicles were registered, nearly two per cent of the 2008 total of 5,206.

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