By Antony Mutunga
Once upon a time, Nairobi city was nothing but a railway depot used by the British colonialists on the Kenya-Uganda railway. However, 101 years since it replaced Machakos as the capital city of Kenya, it has grown to become one of the largest cities in Africa. It is identified as among one of the top investment destinations on the Continent. In addition, this has seen its population grow as well, hitting over 3 million people according to data from the Kenya Census 2009.
However, regardless of its visible growth since its early ages, the city has been hit by several challenges that seem to have no immediate solution in sight. Transportation is one of the major issues that affect the city with traffic congestion within Nairobi and its environs getting worse each day. According to data from the government, traffic congestion cost the city over Sh50 million a day.
The roads in Nairobi always seem busy as they are ever filled with private cars and public service vehicles, which are the most common means of transportat in the country. Apart from these two modes, there are also trains but unlike the other two they work on a schedule and are also not available in all areas within the city.
As a result the commuters in the city have no alternative but to either leave home in the early hours of the day in order to catch a train where possible or take a public service vehicle in the hope that they arrive in time. The government has tried to come up with policies on how they can do away with this dilemma but time after time again, the policies have deemed unproductive.
For example, the county government increased parking fees within the Central business district (CBD) and restricted Matatus from entering the area as well. However, this has not helped in achieving their main aim of reducing vehicles in the cbd. Their has also been a concerted effort by the central and county governments to upgrade various roads in the city, Outering Road being a good example. There, however, has been an overemphasis on expansion of road transport as opposed to other forms, say, railway.
As the population of Nairobi keeps growing and more people import as well as purchase vehicles, traffic congestion can only be expected to increase in the future. Therefore, it is time the Government emulated our neighbour, Ethiopia, and invest in the rail system in order to do away with the growing traffic congestion within Nairobi and its environs.
The SGR that connects the capital city to the port of Mombasa changed the way people travel and now the Nairobi county government needs to emulate a similar approach instead of always focusing on the road system. An efficient rail system running in all areas within Nairobi would reduce the number of cars on the roads. With fewer cars on the road the disturbing long hours that commuters spend on the road would be a thing of the past.
Apart from promoting the growth of the economy, the introduction of an efficient rail system across Nairobi is also good for the environment. As the rail system reduces the number of cars on the roads, it ends up curbing air pollution that is usually caused by the millions of cars in the capital city. This will help in ensuring Kenyans are healthier as it does away with the high levels of pollution that commuters usually get affected by during traffic congestions that last for hours on end.
On the other hand, rail vehicles may use electricity from renewable energy such as solar which would cause air pollution in the city to reduce. This would help keep the health of the people in check as people will increase their physical activity instead of driving everywhere even in the case of short distances. This in turn increases productivity.
The introduction of the rail system across the city will also see most people use the rail vehicles, which will cause people to interact more thus fostering greater community cohesion. This would be helpful for the city where politics has created a tension between Kenyans. Therefore, the fact that the use of the rail vehicles will be promoting social contact, it in turn does away with social evils such as tribalism that are threatening to break up our country.
In addition, the use of a rail system within Nairobi would see the creation of many job opportunities especially for the youth. According to the Human Development Index (HDI) report 2017 by the United Nations (U.N) the level of unemployment in the country stands at 39.1%. With the rail system in place, the government would be able to reduce this unemployment rate thus promoting economic growth.
Even though it might be expensive to implement, investing in the rail system all over Nairobi is the way forward. All over the world, societies are working towards reducing the dependency people have on private cars. One cannot ignore the positive effects it will have in terms of reducing pollution and congestion while at the same time promoting economic growth.
The rail system is a solution to a number of the city’s problems and if implemented, there is a need for policies to ensure that it benefits all. Having the rail system all over the capital city will put the country on the map as it promotes Nairobi on the international level and attracts more investors.