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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Plan to phase out 14-seater matatu hits roadblock

Posted  Friday, February 10  2012 at  22:30
The plan to phase out the 14-seater matatu appears to have hit a roadblock.
This has derailed the ambitious plan by the government to improve the public transport system.
The phase-out plan was announced by Transport Minister Amos Kimunya in December 2010, but there was no clear path to ensure a smooth transition. (READ:500,000 ‘to lose jobs’ in matatu phase-out)
“There was failure to show what type of vehicles will be needed,” Dr Eric Aligula of the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research said.
The policy came out of a study carried out by the institute in 2004 focusing on business regulation.
The study sought to find solutions to traffic congestion especially in major towns.
The institute recommended that the phase-out be implemented in phases with priority being given to major towns such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret.
It also cited the need to establish the specific needs of each route in terms of the vehicle capacity, which according to the institute’s officials was not done.
“We did not propose a total phase-out of 14-seaters for the reason that these vehicles still have a place in the rural areas,” Mr Aligula says.
In a telephone interview, Mr Moses Maina, Ministry of Transport deputy secretary said that the government has started fresh consultations to implement the policy.
Consultations are taking place with matatu owners even as the government hires consultancy services to map different areas depending on their need for the proposed change.
“The Transport Licensing Board has asked for consultancy services to establish how many 14-seat matatus there are and whether they are sustainable in the areas they operate,” added Mr Maina.
Implementation started in January last year with a freeze on new licenses for 14-seat vehicles. This has succeed as has the formation of saccos through which matatu owners are licensed.
Matatus have to be members of a sacco based on the route they run in order to get a licence.
Other than replacing low-capacity vehicles with buses and mini-buses of between 26 and 42 seats, the study by the institute also recommended the upgrading of existing commuter rails.
The ongoing consultations will explore the setting up of transit bus stops along major roads leading into town centres.
These will serve as stop points for vehicles taking passengers from rural areas from where they will pick up buses to enter the CBD.
If implemented poorly, the policy risks injecting a feeling of discrimination among investors.
However, analysts think that the benefits of decongesting public transport override personal gains by investors.
Among the thorny issues that have been raised is the possible loss of jobs for those already serving in the sector.
Those against the policy feel that the change may result in loss of jobs and income and subject investors to huge capital requirements in order to purchase large capacity vehicles.
However, those for the policy say that the proposed system will improve the existing one and streamline operations leading to increased revenue from the sector.
“The whole idea was to make the public transport sector a 24-hour system where bus owners can employ staff in shifts. This will address the fears of job losses,” Dr Aligula said.
The traffic congestion, the Kippra analyst said, had a ripple effect on other sectors of the economy, leading to a general decline in productivity.

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