On traffic, let’s try carpooling while we work on lasting fixes

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By David Wanjala

Traffic congestion in Nairobi City costs the economy upward of Sh37 billion annually according to an interim report by Nairobi County’s Transport and Urban Decongestion committee of 2014. The report attributed this to poor planning of the city, which did not factor in a steady increase in population and vehicles on the road.

But the effects of long, unending traffic jams are not only felt in terms of the GDP. Think about a lactating mother who has to be up by 4:30am so as to leave for the city from Kitengela, Rongai or Ruai by 5:15am, to be at her place of work by the stipulated time of 8:am, and will not be home until past 8:30, despite leaving work by 5:pm.

It may sound easy to hack, but if it has to be five days in a week all year round, it breaks even the strongest. The irony of it is that leaving Kitengela, for instance, by 5:15am does not mean that you will take all the near three hours on the road. You will probably be in town by 6: am. Try, however, to be late by 30 minutes and leave, say by 5:45am, and you will be in town by 9:am, which could mean getting fired.

The menace of traffic jams in Kenya’s capital city has been around since independence and has only got worse with time. That Nairobi’s population has grown from about 350, 000 in 1963 to about 4 million people currently does not justify why we have not developed our infrastructure to match the growing population and number of vehicles on the roads.

What the government has to do to deal with this menace in light of such a cost to the GDP is known. We need to not only expand but also upgrade our road network. We must, as has been strongly suggested elsewhere in this magazine, move our public transport system from the road to a good connected railway network. With a good railway system connecting neighbouring counties like Kiambu, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kajiado, Machakos, Makueni and even Kitui, people will not need to relocate to work in Nairobi. This will decongest the city big time.

To achieve such an elaborate undertaking, factoring in our bureaucratic procurement processes that fuel the mega corruption, this will take forever. Yet the traffic jam menace in Nairobi needs to be fixed immediately. Obviously, some quick fix, instant coffee kind of solutions are needed. And probably we could start by localizing the US and Poland’s carpooling system by outlawing single occupancy in private cars during peak hours.

Only drivers occupy eight out of ten cars with capacities of five or even seven occupants (Toyota Wish, Honda Stream et el) on Nairobi’s roads during peak hours. If we made it mandatory, security concerns notwithstanding, for private cars to be full to capacity for them to access roads leading to town centre, it would go along way towards reducing the number of vehicles on the roads during peak hours and, in the process, reduce traffic jams.

We could start with Embakasi’s Nyayo estate, with its huge numbers, for experiment and make it mandatory that no car should leave any of the numerous gates of the estate with less than its capacity of occupancy. This will force neighbours to arrange themselves to pool their cars and in the process even foster good neighbourliness. It will then be replicated elsewhere if it succeeds.

It is important for the economy.