Bus Rapid Transit in Nairobi: A Matatu Driver’s Perspective

By Joe Nderitu

Public transport in Kenya is mainly dominated by the informal sector. This sector has registered tremendous growth after individual bus and van owners formed and joined the co-operative movement (Saccos) which works symbiotically with the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) an arm of the government. Conditions for workers in the informal transport sector are often very poor, and some workers have joined together and formed a registered trade union Public Transport Operators Union (PUTON) which I chair to champion their labour rights. PUTON together with trade unions in developing countries around the globe developed an informal transport workers charter that we are presenting to our respective governments and transport authorities to get recognition.

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Matatus dominate the public transport sector in Kenya-what is their future?

The transport industry in Kenya is locally called the matatu sector, and you will find different forms of this transit in the 47 counties created by the new Kenyan constitution. Nairobi county, the capital city of Kenya, has experienced exponential growth due to rural to urban migration and this has led to stress on its infrastructure. Formal transport (commuter rail, former bus service) is one example of an urban infrastructure that has not met the demands of the city and wider metropolitan region. This is in part because the government failed to properly invest in this important service. In the past, Nairobi had good bus service that matched the expectations of the city but this collapsed and paved way for the informal mode of transit, the matatu, to be dominant and fulfill the demands of the growing population in the city.

The government has been struggling to regulate the transport industry but usually by punishing the sector rather than working with it on solutions. Recently, for example some disturbing statements have been coming from the government. A transport minister once said that the matatu industry thrives in chaos and would not like to get organized. A chief officer in charge of transport in the county government of Nairobi equated our public transport to informal settlements that needed to be eradicated. An official at the Ministry of Transport put it clearly that there was no room for improving the matatu industry and the government had decided that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was the way to go.

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Bus Rapid Transit in Dar Es Salaam-what about improvements outside these corridors?

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a system touted to be environmental friendly, clean and formal. BRT components include bus stations with off board fare collection points, parking slots, washrooms, dedicated bus lanes, non motorized transit routes, big long buses etc. The government of Kenya through the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) with their symbiotic partner City Star Shuttle bus company had a deal and decided to give Kenyans a taste of what mass transit is by bringing in one big articulated bus on the streets of Nairobi. The bus was 17 metres long and was issued with a temporary license and permit to provide transport services in the city.

This was a noble move and idea, but I believe there was some external influence that allowed this bus to operate illegally on our Kenyan roads. The bus appeared not to be registered, and did not conform to the NTSA Act 2012 regulations which public service vehicles (PSVs) are supposed to respect. Fare collection on this bus was in form of cash, whereas in a BRT system it should have a station where pre paid and off board fare collection is enhanced;  this big bus was one component of the BRT system but not BRT. BRT uses dedicated bus lanes. The big bus on the streets of Nairobi operated on the same lanes as other motorists sometimes bulldozing itself in your way. BUS RAPID TRANSIT (BRT) IS NOT A BIG LONG BUS!

Further research by our union showed that the driver of this long articulated bus was not promoted from within the City Shuttle bus workforce. This brings to the fore the concern of informal transport workers around how BRT is going to accommodate informal transport workers and provide education and training to improve urban transport. In neighbouring Tanzania, BRT buses don’t have conductors, drivers use microphones fitted on buses to communicate to passengers. Is this the plan for Nairobi? How many jobs will be lost and what will be done to support the many poor when they lose their jobs?

Outering road in Nairobi that connects Thika superhighway to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport next to Mombasa road is one road that  is supposed to have a BRT infrastructure but the designs have flaws. Further, such a BRT system should not be an isolated corridor but have linkage to rail, non-motorised transit that include bicycles and the road transport network. Are there plans for this?

There is no public information neither from the government of Kenya and from the county government on Nairobi about BRT plans. Project Information Document (PID) and Integrated Safeguards Data Sheet (ISDS) from the World Bank are not on the public domain and neither do transport workers understand how these BRT projects will impact their jobs, welfare or wider social justice concerns which includes passenger welfare. These concerns should be raised to these International Financial Institutions funding transport related projects in these region and PUTON is calling out for support from allies to address these issues before the BRT project is implemented.

By the look at things in the city of Nairobi, a lot of better planning by city planners and the Ministry of Transport and dialogue by stakeholders needs to be done to accommodate BRT and to advise whether there are other alternatives,. Can the BRT system be really owned by Kenyans? My worry is that Nairobi city cannot be like Rio De Janeiro, Johannesburg, London, Lagos, Bogota or neighbouring Dar es Salaam but BRT standards should not be lowered to suit the politics of our city. Another issue is how will matatu service feeding into a BRT be improved? Without addressing this problem transport service for many, including the poorest, will not improve. And what will the cost of the BRT be for people and taxpayers?  Let us engage in a critical dialogue about BRT and also assess the alternative approaches as the funds provided for these projects are loans, not grants and they will be paid back with interest by Kenyan taxpayers.

Joe Nderitu grew up in the matatu industry and works in the sector in Nairobi County. He is a founder and chairperson of the Public Transport Operators Union which strives to improve conditions for workers and passengers in the matatu industry.

Interview with Chairman of the Public Transport Operators Union, Joseph Ndiritu

Nairobi Planning Innovations recently spent some time with Joe Ndiritu, Chairman of the Public Transport Operators Union and matatu expert. We asked him to share some of his insights into the sector from a driver’s point of view.

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Joe Ndiritu discusses issues in the matatu sector with students from MIT and University of Nairobi

NPI: How did you get into the matatu sector?

I joined the matatu sector while still at school at a tender age of 14 years. Back then, matatus were being operated by young ones and you could hardly see an old or aged person working as a conductor. That was in the year 1990 and peer influence drove me to the sector as it was by then. Today, it has grown to be an industry controlling billions of shillings . Before joining the matatu sector then, you were vetted by the senior workers in the industry and we used to pay royalties to them. When you were new in the industry you were branded names such as njuka, kamande, ka-fala, fariso, ndemwa, mgeni etc, and names according to the route you operated on. It was a form of “monolization” or initiation, which I later on came to learn was to instill “discipline” in the sector;  you were supposed to respect your elder workmates and society (neighbours & passengers) who were friendly to the matatu.

NPI: What are the main problems you face as a matatu driver?

The main problems I face as a matatu driver are brought about by corruption of some state departments that regulate the industry. These state departments are directly involved in the daily activities conducted in the matatu industry, and others are indirectly involved. The state department that hinders the growth and development of matatu workers is the police department which is supposed to serve and protect lives and property. It is this department that harasses matatu workers, intimidates and demands and coerces for bribes. Police instill fear in matatu workers, mostly because most workers do not understand the Traffic Act which the police enforce.

 

County inspectorate askaris also harass transport workers when enforcing by-laws. Many of these by-laws we do not understand or have access to. Some are outdated and do not conform to the demands of cities and urban centres.

Another issue is with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) which has allowed cartels to collect illegal tax on matatu workers, and we end up paying a lot in illegal taxes rather than what we would have paid the taxman. KRA has mechanisms to address this issues and collect tax from matatu workers in the form of pay as you earn (PAYE) or income tax or any other form of tax that would work in the sector. 70% of matatu workers have a Personal Identification Number (P.I.N) and have at least an employer who is supposed to remit tax to KRA.

 

We also wish the labour department would help us. It is supposed to advise other state departments, inform, educate and enforce labour laws and related matters. They have totally ignored the transport industry in Kenya or have not been engaged by the state. The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) is desperately trying to address labour issues affecting matatu workers without the input of labour department.

 

Another problem I face as a matatu worker (driver) is when my colleagues overlap in traffic or when they are arrested and coerced to give bribes. It makes me feel that I am part of that problem collectively, and it paints a bad picture of me as an empowered matatu driver.

 

There is a health problem that we have as drivers and is not spoken about. This problem is back pain and headache that is an effect of long driving hours and most drivers abuse a pain relieving drug called Diclofenac  because of lack of medical cover. We also have pneumonia that is associated with exposure to extreme cold and poor air quality and has killed many of our drivers and conductors. Another health problem is H.I.V. Despite national campaigns, matatu workers have not undergone sensitization seminars, hence exposing them to the dangers of the epidemic.

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Poor air quality and other public health problems impact matatu drivers

Bad roads, goods roads and poorly maintained vehicles are also a main problem to most drivers. Bad roads and poorly maintained vehicles increase risk of crashes but good roads can also cause problems. Most drivers have not undergone refresher courses or defensive driving courses despite improvements on road infrastructure. Our employers and governments have not invested in us (workers) in terms of facilitating improved learning through such courses.

 NPI: Tell us about the Public Transport Operators Union that you chair. What are you aims and why should the public support your efforts?

Public Transport Operators Union (PUTON) is a trade union registered in Kenya under the Labour Relations Act of 2007 to represent the interest of informal transport workers in Kenya. It was registered on 12/02/2013 through a court order after the registrar of trade unions in Kenya had initially refused to register the organization. Informal transport workers in Kenya are estimated (yes estimated) to be 300,000 of which 200,000 work directly as drivers and conductors and the 100,000 are indirect workers.

Our aims are found and elaborated in our union’s constitution.

They include but are not limited to:

 
To provide a basis for the establishment of sound traditions, good culture and fair solutions to disputes.
 
➢ To promote, improve and develop responsibility, interests and aspects of life and contribute towards a healthy social life among workers.
 
➢ To provide and avail means to the workers for expression, views and decisions upon matters affecting the interests of the public transport industry.
 
➢ To participate in all matters calculated to lead to the improvement of the matatu transport and to promote the establishment of a system suitable for our unique system of public transport.
 

➢ To provide effective representation of matatu operators in the government, National Transport Authority, Public/Private organizations/institutions, NGO’s or any recognized agency where such representation may be required.

The public should support our efforts because we need a win-win situation where all stakeholders are responsible enough for their actions when providing service. Matatu drivers have been for a very long time been on the receiving end because of being voiceless.

NPI:  What improvements in the routes and passenger services would you like to see implemented and how can matatu drivers help push for these changes?

  • Route re-design on the existing framework that will also lead to people shifting residence to far areas outside the city centre e.g. Thika, Ruiru, Mavoko, Limuru etc.
  • Allocation of new routes within the city and combining some routes to give better services. This means that some existing routes will become obsolete.
  • Public safety e.g. by not carrying excess load and passengers
  • Conducive working environment will improve service delivery
  • Devolving public transport to county level.

NPI:  What do you think the government could do to build a more cooperative relationship with the matatu sector?

  • Engage all stakeholders in transport
  •  Improve infrastructure
  •  Invest in policies that will guide the future of the matatu industry e.g. up to the year 2030 and beyond when we shall have an improved transport system.

This policy must take into account the interests of informal transport workers together with the potential of loss of livelihood, especially with the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit system which is being promoted by the World Bank, Matatu Owners Association and others.

NPI: What is your vision for transportation for Nairobi?

My vision for Nairobi’s transportation is a mass transport system, because the city is developing so fast and has become the hub for doing business in the region. Many international organizations are setting their regional offices in Nairobi, and our transport will need to accommodate the middle/working class. There should be a public transport system to accommodate this class and encourage the use of public transport alongside other modes of transport e.g. Non Motorized Transport. Otherwise if P.S.V/matatus don’t change with time, then there might be a death knell in the industry (e.g. like the current case of taxis and UBER), just the same way the telephone booth died with the introduction of cellphones in Kenya.

 

The Art of Shaping Nairobi (NaMSIP project): An Interview with Pedro Ortiz, World Bank

Nairobi Planning Innovations has the pleasure of talking to Pedro B. Oritz, Senior Urban Planner at the World Bank. Pedro has been working for many years on the Nairobi Metropolitan Services Improvement Project (NaMSIP) which aims to strengthen urban services and infrastructure in the Nairobi metropolitan region. Pedro has a long and distinguished career in urban planning in Spain. He is the founder and Director of the Masters program of Town Planning of the University King Juan Carlos of Madrid, a former elected Mayor for Madrid’s Central District (1989-1991) and member of the Madrid’s City Council (1987-1995). Pedro also served as Director of the “Strategic Plan for Madrid” (1991-1994) and as Director General for Town and Regional Planning for the Government of Madrid Region. He is the author of the “Regional Development Plan of Madrid of 1996” and the “Land Planning Law of 1997” and recently wrote an important book on metropolitan planning The Art of Shaping the Metropolis. Today he talks to us about his work in Nairobi on commuter rail and metropolitan planning.

NPI: You have been working for NaMSIP for many years and have had a chance to explore how Nairobi and its surrounding counties and towns work. In the absence of metropolitan institutions, how do you see metropolitan planning working in practice in the Nairobi region?

We started NaMSIP in March 2011. The idea was to produce a comprehensive cross-sectorial program that would integrate a metropolitan vision on public transport, land-use and water/environment, within a strategy of economic international positioning and response to local social needs.

The basic metropolitan strategy was producing polycentrism to avoid the congestive dependency of the central CBD. This needs to be based in a renovated commuter rail system with urban centralities (TOD’s) along the three main existing lines and consistent strategic urban planning. Every town must have a different role to play complementing one each other. The periphery has to be reticulated, instead of orbital-designed, to provide homogeneous accessibility to maximize competitive potential.

I must say that Nairobi is the African leading metropolis in this metropolitan comprehensive approach. Many other African capitals will benefit from Nairobi’s leadership and experience. That will increase the leadership role of Nairobi as the capital of the African continent.

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Nairobi is not circular. Ring roads and bypasses are not the solution. It has a very distinctive directionality, the borderline between Kiambu Hills and Athi River plain. The Metropolis has to be planned accordingly.

NPI:  You have remarked that “Nairobi needs to play chess not darts” in order to relieve congestion. Can you explain what you mean?

Every town in a metropolis has to play it’s own role in a common strategy. That is the game of chess. Every piece has different movement tactics and that defines its role. Rooks are Thika, Athi River and Limuru. Knights: Tala, Kiambu and Ngong. Bishops: Riuru, Githurai, Imara Daima and Kikuyu. The Queen is obviously the international airport and the King the actual CBD. There will be in 30 years time another Queen. She will be the New south-central-station CBD, and this Queen will move progressively towards Makadara OuterRing road junction. Tala will become a Rook and Mlolongo and Ruai Bishops. Sorry if this sounds complex now, but metropolises are complex mechanisms. What must be clear is that Nairobi should not play the game of Darts anymore where everyone wants to reach the center and you get 3-hour jams. If Nairobi wants to be a world-class city, it has to play chess and not darts, which, by the way, is a much more intelligent game.

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NPI: Under NaMSIP, there is a plan to upgrade commuter rail. Can you tell us what Nairobians can expect and what kinds of impacts this upgrade and expansion of commuter rail will have on the city?

To have an efficient metropolitan system you must have an efficient commuter/metro system. Nairobi is a 5 million inhabitant metropolis and will become a 14 million one. Those figures cannot just be served by BRT. BRT in Bogota (9 million) takes 2.5 hours to reach Chia from Soacha (25 km) and people riot. An efficient commuter service has trains every 10 to 15 minutes. Some are in the 3 minutes frequency. Now Nairobi has one train in the morning and another one in the evening. That is not a Commuter service. Figures have to move from ten thousand passengers a day to one million. Imagine taking a million future cars out of the streets of Nairobi. Now motorization is low: 1 car for every 10 people. But it is growing fast and will reach developed countries ratios of 7 cars for every 10 people. That means that Nairobi which now has 500,000 cars will have 10 million in the future. It is an impossible task to have an efficient metropolis if you don’t have an efficient public transport that will keep those cars out of the streets. All this requires an efficient commuter system, 60 trains per day in each line, a train every ten minutes. That requires a massive investment form KRC and the World Bank is helping on that. When will this happen? It depends on the management capacity of KRC and the political backing it has from Central Government. This is a national issue. Nairobi produces 50% of Kenyan GDP. If Nairobi works, Kenya works. National Government must be aware of that.

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NPI: The majority of people use matatus today as their form of transport. What do you see as the future role of minibuses in the Nairobi region? How, if at all, will they link to the commuter rail project?

BRT’s, buses and minibuses are part of the comprehensive system of public transport. Each mode complements each other and plays a specific role. Minibuses are not made to run long distances. That is up to the train. The train has to feed matatus; matatus have to feed the train. Matatus must have efficient and comfortable intermodal stations at the train stations, and the trains will provide a million passengers to the matatus waiting there. The 100, 000 necessary matatus will take the passengers to their final destination a few kilometers away. Commuter rail and matatus do not compete. They complement each other in a win-win strategy. Columbia University is doing a wonderful job in this issue. We shall be working together for the years to come to make the whole system work.

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NPI: There are a number of bus rapid transit (BRT) plans for Nairobi. In your view, what is the role of BRT in Nairobi and how would you like to see these projects link to the commuter rail and the matatu system?

Again, BRT and trains must complement each other. For instance: I see BRT on Thika road with train intermodal connections in Githurai, Riuru, Juja and Thika. It is clear that BRT terminals have to coordinate with train stations: Imara Daima, Githurai, Kikuyu. Those are the actual priorities. The issue later will be if train and BRT can follow the same routes. A train stops every 2 km. BRT every 300 m. There could be a complementarity there, depending on the demand. If the demand is not high enough, then buses will be enough. You see: there is a lot of work to do to coordinate the whole public transport system of Nairobi. And future of the metropolis and the well being of the Nairobians is at stake.

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NPI: You are working on transit-oriented development (“TOD”) around new commuter rail stations in Nairobi. Can you explain why TOD is important and the likely impacts of TOD for Nairobi?

A train station is not just a train station. It is an opportunity to serve the population that is using the train with complementary services. It is an excuse to fill the train with the population that is using/benefiting form those complementary uses. If 200,000 people are using a station, there are many possibilities to serve them right there or close by. Activities have to take place around the train stations: activities such as Social Facilities, Hospitals, Education, Administration, Commercial, Services, Offices, etc. On top of that you must provide a nice setting with public parks and public spaces for people to meet and enjoy themselves, plus the required intermodality to create easy access from other parts of the urban context. If all that has a high-density residential potential, then the whole thing will be a success as these people will have all those urban services at hand and those services will have the people they serve. This is what has been done in Europe since the implementation of the train in mid 19th C. London started that in 1850, Paris around the same time. The USA has branded the term TOD (Transit Oriented Development) from 1993 onwards. I guess we owe much to the ‘Millennials’ (young urban professionals that are changing the face of American cities by changing attitudes to car ownership). They get my gratitude from here. We are doing that in Nairobi. 32 centralities are being designed around 32 stations. The difficulty will be managing them. Land property is often not clear in Nairobi. Many times the private landowner does not see the benefits for him coming out of a public investment on transport and accessibility. He does not see his possibilities, or his duties. A lot of work has to be done in promoting that win-win dialogue and working together for the benefit of both the landowner and the public. Probably the legal system will have to be adapted and modernized. Professionals and stakeholders will need to be engaged. A huge task but essential if Nairobi wants to be an efficient, equitable and sustainable metropolis.

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Parallel waterways flowing from Kiambu Hills to Athi River can support a sustainable green infrastructure network with parks, urban agriculture, storm water catchment reservoirs and environmental amenities.

NPI: Nairobi county has a Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) policy addressing walking, cycling and other forms of non-motorized transport. How important is NMT investment for Nairobi and its metro region?

The best way to access the commuter train is by walking or on bicycle. That means that this should be conveniently placed, close by and accessible. That is already a success. So to improve the accessibility via NMT to the station is a priority. As such we are working on this and improving access with quick-win investments on the NMT connection between the town centers and the train stations in 20 out of the 32 designed Centralities. Once this essential connection will be made. the NMT system can expand integrating the urban network and connecting further to the Green Infrastructure network based in the blue waterway assets of the Nairobi River effluents. This way transport, land use and environment will be integrated through the NMT network. It is the best way to make a sustainable focused integration.

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The incrementalist approach to growing an NMT network across gray and green infrastructure networks will progressively integrate and serve the urban structure.

NPI: Where can citizens go to get more information on the NaMSIP plans?

NaMSIP has a coordination office on the 20th floor of Ambank Building. Excellent professionals are working there. They are there to serve Nairobi and the Nairobians. Don’t rush in numbers to ask them. They have to work. But you can reach out to them to ask for information. You also have the World Bank related webpages:

http://www.worldbank.org/projects/P107314/nairobi-metropolitan-services-improvement-project?lang=en

http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/06/17952718/kenya-nairobi-metropolitan-services-improvement-project-namsip-procurement-plan

World Bank press release on NaMSIP

You can see as well some of the fertilizing ideas in this link: http://www.pedrobortiz.com/display-articles/listforcity/city/36 I hope you appreciate what you can see there, and I will be happy to discuss with anyone interested. My contact email is provided in the webpage. This interview has given me the idea that probably NaMSIP should produce a brochure, or a set of brochures, to inform easily to whoever wish to get more information. NaMSIP belongs to Nairobians and is working for their future. They should know. It’s their Right. Thank you very much for the opportunity to fulfill that Right.

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An example of how Metropolises play Chess: The case of Madrid with towns characterized accordingly to their role on the overall metropolitan strategy. Sometimes the game will be won thanks to a pawn.

NPI: Thank you so much! I hope more planners will join the public conversation so that Nairobians can be informed and add their input into plans for their city.