NPI invited entrepreneur Sellina Ayoma Omollo, Director of Ubabi Vanpooling, a new transportation company, to share her thoughts on what brought her to start this new business which aims to get the car driving class in Nairobi into shared mobility.
It has been said that a crisis is an opportunity in disguise. If so, then there is no greater opportunity in Nairobi today than that of decongesting road traffic. As a matter of fact, the topic of traffic congestion was a campaign issue in the 2012 Nairobi Gubernatorial race. Immediately following his election, Governor Evans Kidero formed the Nairobi Metropolitan Region Traffic Decongestion Committee. This committee has since employed several interventions such as expansion of roads, introduction of bypasses, blocking roundabouts, introduction of one way traffic in the Central Business District, removal of right turns and increment of parking fees. Despite all these efforts, the situation seems to persist and even worsen.
This scenario warrants a reexamination of the problem to unearth the underlying causes in order to find appropriate solutions. According to the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KiPPRA) 2015 report, the cost of traffic jams in the Nairobi Metropolitan Region was estimated at KES 1.9 billion annually, on account of additional time spent on travel due to congestion. Other negative effects include decreased productivity and health risks caused by air pollution and stress.
Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya has a current estimated population of 3.5 million. A study of the largest cities in the world by population such as Tokyo/Yokohama (33.2 million); New York Metro (17.8 million); Paris (9.2 million) and London (8.2 million) shows interesting transit patterns. The key observation is the vast number of people travel at any given time, day or night. The amazing thing is that almost everyone is on public transport in these cities!
Nairobi on the other hand, despite the much lower population, is congested due to the overwhelming number of low occupancy personal cars being driven. In the past two decades, the rising middle class alongside the affordability of vehicles from Japan has resulted in increased traffic jams. Unfortunately, this trend is the complete opposite of the desired movement towards sustainable living as envisioned in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), of which Kenya is a signatory.
A keen look at the public transport options in Nairobi would explain why the residents prefer to drive to work regardless of the high costs and stress associated with it. The public transport options are often unprofessional and unreliable. Matatus for example are designed to make the passenger as uncomfortable as possible: Loud music, offensive graffiti and irregular routes and fares are the order of the day. Buses and trains on the other hand are not easily accessible and are few in number.
Perhaps it is time to rethink the strategies for solving the challenge of traffic congestion in Nairobi. It is time to provide ‘luxury public transport’ that will appeal to the driving class. Vanpooling for instance is an option that will provide convenience and comfort. Vanpooling is an arrangement between coworkers or neighbours who commit to travel the same way to work and back for a specific period of time. The vans are spacious, clean, fitted with seat belts and most of all have no graffiti. The drivers are courteous and professionally trained. Passengers can relax during the commute and even work if they wish. Payments are in easy and convenient monthly subscriptions by cashless means. The cashless system also helps curb interference by cartels.
At a first glance, vanpooling may not seem to make much difference. However at closer look the difference is evident. For example, if four resident associations would embrace this option and each hire at least one 25-seater van, that would be 100 less personal vehicles on the roads. The convenience and comfort one enjoys in their personal vehicle would still be maintained. Once this model is operationalized, it would significantly reduce traffic congestion in Nairobi.
Sellina Ayoma Omollo is a 36 year old pastor’s wife and a mother of three. She holds a PhD in Human Nutrition and is currently the Director of Ubabi Vanpooling society. She became interested in sustainable transportation out of frustration with the road traffic congestion in Nairobi. Frustrated with the “pathetic public transportation system in Kenya”, she created Ubabi Vanpooling, which seeks to reduce traffic congestion in Nairobi by providing luxury group transportation options Sellina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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